Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matt. 22. 37-40.
THE TELEPHONE rings. It would ring, of course, just when your typewriter is at last clacking happily; an article that has been agonizingly slow to start is finally under way. Muttering something censorable, you break off in the middle of a sentence and go to answer the ring. Perhaps, at least, the interruption will be a pleasant one?
No such luck. The caller is a neighbour who is well established as the neighbourhood nuisance; a bitter, malicious old woman who has divorced her husband, driven away her children, quarrelled with her friends, and walked out of her church -and who is now eating her unrepentant soul out in loneliness and self-pity. You're the only one for miles who still speaks to her, and you don't enjoy doing it. Today she says, with a consciously pathetic catch in her voice, that she's absolutely desperate, and won't you come over and cheer her up?
Rebellion surges in your mind. Oh, no, not again ! You think in a flash of all the times you've tried in vain to tell her of God and repentance and grace, only to be jeered at as a credulous fool. You think of the good practical advice scorned, the attempts at reassurance sneered at. You know very well that this time too all you will get from her will be a denunciation of other people, an assertion of her own perfect virtue, and a series of small nasty digs at yourself. But not this time, not just as you've finally managed to get started writing - it's too much. After all, one can't help those who don't really want to be helped.
You open your mouth to tell her, "Sorry, I can't come today, because I'm writing an article about Christ's commandment to love your neighbour "
Oh, well. You gulp. You say, "Be right over," and, with a last sad look at your typewriter, off you go.
That is what happened to this article half an hour ago; not that the writer is ordinarily so mindful of Christian duties, but because in this case the reminder was sharp enough to penetrate the densest Christian. Right here the article breaks off, and will be resumed after some attempt has been made to love a neighbour.
... Well, you come back. You did cheer her up a little, after all. You're not any too cheerful yourself, thinking of your wasted working hours and your vanished good ideas and the old lady's poisoned darts still sticking to your hide. Nevertheless, deep inside you, there is a small bright glow.
It's an unreasonable feeling. From the practical point of view, you've thrown away a day-a bit of your life-and got nothing in exchange for it. From the practical point of view some of your inalienable rights have been alienated, and you ought to be feeling injured and cheated-pretty much as the old lady usually feels, in fact. Yet the small miraculous happiness persists. Everything in your education, in the modern climate of opinion, urges you to reject it as "merely subjective." It's not real, not valuable; it's only vanity, or only sentimentality; it won't get you one step nearer to worldly success. Perhaps you are even half ashamed of it, and you may try to push it away.
Don't. It will vanish soon enough in any case; your self will descend like a wet blanket and put the glow out. But while it lasts, take a good look at the brightness and recognize it for the love of God. Your love for him and his for you; the greatest reality you have ever experienced, sweeter than wine and brighter than the sun. For one moment you forgot the self and its desires and its rights; you gave a scrap of your life away, and in return you get this incredible candle in the heart for a moment.
What if the candle never went out, but spread and strengthened and filled your whole consciousness for ever? What new and miraculous life might you hope to get, if you ever managed to throw your life away entirely?
That is what Christ told us to try for-the full blaze of God's love, inexpressible delight of soul and body, joy beyond all joys. That is what we were put into the world to find; and the world itself, seen clearly, exists primarily to help us find it, as a hothouse to nurse our growing spirits along until they are strong enough for the unimaginable outdoors we call heaven. That is the reward of our virtue. So we must believe, if we believe that Christ was the incarnate God and that his promises will be kept.
And so we do believe quite sincerely on the whole, we churchgoers-with our lips and with our minds, for an hour or so on Sundays and five minutes or so at our daily prayers and whatever other time we happen to think about it. Yet the real test of belief is action. A man might assure us quite sincerely that he had no superstitions, and leave us unconvinced if we saw him hastily cross the street to avoid a black cat. Similarly, we know we believe that two and two make four, because we're willing to pay our bills on the strength of our addition: we know we have faith in electricity, because we are willing to trust it to run our houses. By that test, how many of us have enough belief in the love of God to trust it to run our lives?
How often we have heard that virtue is its own reward ! By now we can scarcely hear it seriously at all; we make the cynical misinterpretation that there is no reward for virtue. For a long while we have thought of virtue negatively, as a saying no to various temptations, and the very word has come to have grim and joyless overtones. It seldom occurs to us that virtue might be a pleasure - that it is its own reward because no other reward could be so nice; that virtue is the state of mind in which the love of God can really be enjoyed.
In short, we have accepted the prohibitive Ten Commandments, in the sweat of our brows and the sorrow of our hearts. But the joyous, liberating commandments of Christ we have yet to learn.
And we fear that if we give up the self nothing will be left of us but a dry, empty husk like a dead snail shell. It seldom occurs to us that the Holy Spirit is only waiting till the self is out-waiting to rush in and fill us with luminous splendours. Throwing away the self is like squeezing the water out of a half-drowned man's lungs, not because you want his lungs empty but because you want the air to get in so that he can live. For the self is asphyxiating and killing us; the only air we are designed to breathe is God.
What ails us? We know all this; we've been told it a thousand times. Yet how many of us actually live on the assumption that the whole business of life is getting to heaven?
What has made both God and heaven seem a little unreal to many moderns, who nevertheless think of themselves as religious men? Pride, partly, which makes us want to be virtuous without God's help, and respectability, partly, which makes us distrust any enthusiasm strong enough to be undignified, even an enthusiasm for God. But mostly the materialist climate of opinion in which we live. To materialism, things are real only if you can perceive and measure them; thus, for instance, a man's thoughts are somehow less real than the block of metal he is thinking about, even if his thoughts show him how to blow that block of metal into electronic smithereens. And popular misunderstanding often confuses real with solid - thus many people found it hard to believe in electricity and radioactivity until they saw what these impalpable forces could do to solid objects. The first men who defined God as a spirit without body, parts, or passions, must have thought of spirit as stronger and more significant than matter, must have pictured a living Light in which body and parts and passions could only make dark holes. But we have been trained to think the other way, and are more likely to picture a dead darkness lacking everything that means existence.
For many contemporaries God has dwindled into a noble abstraction, a tendency of history, a goal of evolution; has thinned out into a concept useful for organizing world peace - a good thing as an idea. But not the Word made flesh, who died for us and rose again from the dead. Not a Personality that a man can feel any love for. And not, certainly, the eternal Lover, who took the initiative and fell in love with us.
Is it shocking to think of God as a pursuing lover? Then Christianity is shocking. If we accept the supernatural only as something too weak and passive to interfere with the natural, we had best call ourselves materialists and be done with it-we shall gain in honesty what we lose in respectability. Here's a test to tell if your faith is anything more than faith - and - water. Suppose that tonight the Holy Spirit lifts you high into space, speaks a message to your conscience, then invisibly tucks you back into your safe little bed again. Will you consider the possibility that this experience is genuine? Or will you conclude at once that you must be crazy, and start yelling for a psychiatrist?
And here's a more practical test-since, in all probability, very few of us will be lifted from our beds tonight. Do you think that Christianity is primarily valuable as a means of solving our " real " problem - i.e., how to build a permanently healthy, wealthy, and wise society in this world? If you do, you're at least half a materialist, and some day the Marxists may be calling you comrade.
So strong is the materalist climate of opinion that even convinced Christians sometimes feel compelled to defend Christianity against the charge of `otherworldliness" - to slight its value as the passport to heaven in favour of its usefulness as a blueprint for remodelling earth. Yet we must not blame our earthliness entirely upon Western scientific progress, as if materialism had waited for Edison to invent it. By no means. The Rome of Lucretius, the Athens of Epicurus - even the Israel of Ecclesiastes - were hardly without their materialist philosophers. Devotion to the prince of this world is one of the ancient temptations, and perhaps our remote ancestors had no sooner invented the slingshot than they reared back on their hind legs and proclaimed that their technical progress had now enabled them to do without religion. The choice before us today is just what it always was-whether to be worldly or otherworldly; whether to live for the unloving self or to live for the love of God.
Judging by the Gospels, the Jews of Christ's day were nearly as worldly as we are. We have often read that they turned upon Jesus in anger; and why were they angry? It was not mere reasonless fickleness and fright; it was materialism. They wanted the Messiah, yes. But what they wanted him for was to get them out of a nasty political, social, and economic hole. And when he told them, "My kingdom is not of this world," they crucified him in rage and disappointment.
To understand the satellite countries of the present Russian empire, we might well study the Judean province of the Roman Empire. The chosen people really were in a bad spot; some centuries of war had left them, exhausted and despairing, closed within the iron curtain of Rome. Their prophets told them that defeat and exile and slavery were Jehovah's punishment for disobeying the Commandments - and they drew the materialist inference that his reward for obedience would be worldly success. If they placated the Spirit properly, it would shower them with gifts of matter. How could they placate that angry God? Perhaps it was then that the bitter Jewish saying, still current today, originated : "Chosen for what? Chosen for trouble!"
The Sadducees, a class of merchants grown sophisticated through foreign trade, concluded that one ought to learn Gentile ways, since the Lord obviously favoured the Gentiles. The scribes and Pharisees concluded that the Lord was a hard man at a bargain; ten commandments were too cheap a price for his help, but by hundreds of ritual observances and prohibitions and ostentatious pieties one might eventually win his favour away from the Gentiles. The ascetic Essenes, perhaps influenced by India, went into the materialism-in-reverse which considers matter altogether evil; they concluded that one should give up the life of the flesh as completely as possible. Meanwhile, what of the common people, the hewers of wood and drawers of water, the peasants and carpenters and fishermen? Why, they did what they always do-performed the labour and paid the taxes which fed the others, endured in dumb misery and hoped for a leader. It was to them that he came.
But he would not promise them worldly success. He did not organize an army to fight Caesar : instead, he told them to pay the tribute money. He did not say, "Blessed are ye when ye are rich and victorious, makers of atom bombs and policemen of the nations." He declared instead : "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake." He offered them not all the longed-for kingdoms of the earth, but only, - only ! - the salvation of their own souls.
They wanted him to save their lives. He said, "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."
This is a hard saying. It was hard for the disciples; they didn't want a suffering, dying, crucified God; they wanted a God alive and victorious, with priests and kings and Roman governors kneeling at his feet. It was hard for the martyrs; they didn't want a painful death, they wanted to be happy ordinary citizens with wives and children and a small business. And it is hard for us. We don't want a Christianity that demands that we give up our lives; we'd prefer a Christianity that would show us an easy way of keeping them. Though we often couple death and resurrection in one phrase, we are seldom quite as sure of our promised resurrection as we are of our inevitable death. And we hesitate to gamble our lives on Jesus' promise.
There have always been two kinds of Christianity-man's and Christ's. Does anyone today remember how the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion? It is said he had a vision-saw a cross in the sky with the inscription "In this sign shalt thou conquer." He accepted the new faith promptly, because he thought it would defeat his enemies for him. That is man's Christianity, a means to earthly triumph. And in our present crisis we are appealing to it to defeat the Russians for us. We hear of the life - and - death struggle between Christianity and Communism, the necessity of saving the world once for all, the religious duty of " keeping God alive as a social force " - as if our Lord could not survive a Soviet victory!
It is a poor sort of faith that imagines Christ defeated by anything men can do. Make no mistake : he has already survived everything we can do to him. And as for saving the world, we ought to remember that he has done that too by his method, not ours-the method of opening the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course, God wants us to set our social house in order and to solve our economic problems. But not because he cares about house cleaning and problem-solving; because he cares about us.
There are house - proud people who will indeed sacrifice the family for the sake of the furniture. But the loving father gets the children to stop fighting and start tidying, not for the furniture's sake, but because he knows the children will be happier and better co-operating in a clean house than squabbling in a dirty one. Again : when a teacher sets her class an arithmetic problem, the pupils may imagine that all she cares about is getting the answer. Actually, however, she already knows the answer and isn't in the least interested in it; what she cares about is teaching the pupils.
Thus, while man's Christianity sometimes gets obsessed with the house and the problem, Christ's is always devoted to the children. That is the other Christianity, the Kingdom that is not of this world. He told us how to come out of this thick darkness into that light; it is done by loving God, and the means to that is loving men. So simple a statement, and yet we have found so many ways of misinterpreting it! The ages of persecution hurt men in the name of their love of God; fire and rack and thumb-screw were invoked to honour the Christ of mercy. In private life most of us know some brute who bullies his family and his neighbours in the name of holiness, though if Christ's prescription means anything, it surely means that you can't simultaneously love God and be nasty to your wife. But our secularist age has a pet evasion of its own; it destroys individual men in the name of its love for man.
When Christians reverse the commandment, making love of men the end and love of God only means, they lay them selves wide open to the secularist attack. Why not, the atheist asks, bypass God altogether and love men directly? Thus, if Latin is taught in our schools only as a means to the mastery of English, why not teach English directly and stop bothering our heads about Latin? The argument convinces many.
Life, however, answers it. The generation that is taught no Latin proves illiterate in English. The idealist who tries to love man directly soon makes the shocking discovery that men are not lovable as they are-they don't fit his ideals, so he sets up his bed of Procrustes and starts to stretch and squeeze them into a shape he likes. Usually it's the shape of a willing slave to the idealist. All the best torturers are sustained by some ideal that keeps them from noticing how nasty the reality they're making is. As a Communist once said to this writer : "Of course we're imprisoning our opponents and silencing the press and executing hostile elements. But it's only a temporary expedient, necessary to the ultimate goal!"
Such "love" is not confined to the Marxists; we see plenty of examples of it in daily life. Try to love Johnny Jones up the road, without asking God to help you, and you will discover that your defects and Johnny's both get in the way. If you're like most of us, you will overlook your own and concentrate on removing Johnny's; and he will return the compliment. Good advice will pass into argument, argument into insult-and the end is a fight or a silent feud that may be worse, or ( if you happen to be in an official position ) sometimes a Johnny Jones with chunks of his brain chopped out by psychosurgery, a creature no longer human enough to resist your good intentions. You have one other alternative, if you are too kind and modest by nature for such methods - that is, to lose interest in Johnny's welfare altogether, to condone everything he does, not out of charity, but out of indifference.
The difficulty is to love men for what they are-members of yourself in the eternal body of mankind-and at the same time to make them better than they are, through love. In the famous passage of First Corinthians that defines charity, Paul describes very carefully just what is wanted, and points out that nothing else will either tidy up this world or get us into the next one. And yet minds darkened by original sin, or mental aberration, or whatever you want to call it-either way, we've all got itcannot by an act of will achieve charity: we must acknowledge the failure of our will and ask God for help. Doesn't it seem that Christ's commandment of love involves us in a contradiction? In order to achieve the love of God, we must love our fellow men : but we can't love our fellow men genuinely, unless we begin by loving God!
If we try to solve this paradox by intelligence, we shall be caught in it for ever. But if we forget about thinking it out and start trying to live it, the paradox becomes as irrelevant as the old question, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? How can it matter, as long as we've got the chicken and the eggs? Fortunately for us, we do not live by intelligence alone, for it must be admitted that in spite of nuclear physics and modern technology we don't have enough of it to carry us very far. We still see through a glass darkly. Not only do we not know the nature of God; we don't even know what happens when we go to sleep. We cannot by taking thought add a cubit to our stature or keep our hearts beating. Something else does that for us something that is not our own minds holds the universe in shape and keeps the earth going round the sun and organizes our digestive systems; and if it can do that, we may reasonably ask it to enable us to love God and man simultaneously.
The answer has come already, in the Golden Rule. Don't worry about feeling love; just give what you'd like to get. Suppose you were a quarrelsome little boy of eight, bent on making the world recognize your importance; how would you want to be treated? Well, treat the neighbour's bad little boy that way, next time he pulls your cat's tail. Suppose you were a nervous businessman with ulcers and a demanding daughter in an expensive college; how would you want to be treated? Well, treat your difficult partner that way. Suppose you were an irritable woman with a gland condition and a feeling that youth and beauty were slipping away and leaving you with nothing; how would you want to be treated? Well, treat your wife that way.
And suppose you were an ignorant man, half-illiterate, half superstitious, brought to power suddenly by a revolution and constantly in terror of another revolution that might destroy you; how would you want to be treated? Would we really lose, either from the standpoint of world peace or from the stand point of eternity, if we treated the Russian leaders that way?
We hesitate to be the first to apply the Golden Rule; we feel that it isn't safe, that we must wait until the whole world is ready to apply it with us. But that is why the whole world never is ready-they're all leaving it to the other fellow to start. Of course it isn't safe. We shall lose many worldly advantages if we love our neighbours as ourselves; we may even lose our lives. But then, that is what we were told to do.
Christ never offered us security. He left that to the politicians -Caiaphas probably offered lots of it. Christ told us to expect poverty, humiliation, persecution, and pain, and to know ourselves blessed through accepting them. The good news out of Nazareth was never reassuring news by this world's standards; reassuring news has a way of coming from the devil. For a long time we have been trying to make the best of both worlds, to accept Christianity as an ideal and materialism as a practice, and in consequence we have reached a spiritual bankruptcy in which even our journalists admit that we have no faith with which to answer the whole-souled materialism of Marx. Worldliness, we might as well admit, doesn't seem to be working so well. Perhaps it is time to revive otherworldliness? Perhaps Christ was not only a lofty idealist counselling an impractical perfection, but also the Son of God? And perhaps not only the Son of God but a practical counsellor who knew what he was talking about when he talked of heaven? Perhaps it is not enough to worship him, flatter him, give his preachers money, and decorate his altar - perhaps we ought also to obey him.
And perhaps Christianity, if we ever embrace it not for our own worldly advantage but through surrender to God, will not only enable us to obey the Ten Commandments but enable us to enjoy it; not only save this transitory world for the few perplexed years we spend in it, but bring us out of this noise and darkness and helplessness and terror that we call the world into the full Light : Light we remember from our childhood dreams, and from glimpses through music and art and the ecstasy of first love; Light we have known through a brief glow in our few moments of really selfless charity; Light which, in our secret hearts, we desire more than money and sex and power and the pride of the self. We men are all thieves who have stolen the self which was meant as a part of God and tried to keep it for ourselves alone. But if we give it up again, we might hear the words he spoke to a penitent thief once: "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
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