Love and Morality – Stuart Johnson

As a Trinitarian Theologian, we overtly confess belief in the Father, Son and Spirit.  In many mainstream Christian circles this would be without debate.  However, there is a specific context for which we confess this belief.  It is the context of Jesus Christ who in His own Person gives us the window through which we begin to unpack the inner mysteries of the Trinity once entirely hidden from us.  He is the Light for the whole cosmos within which the whole truth of God shines.  Everywhere else is darkness.  Cyril of Alexandria refers the Light in John 1:5 to Jesus Christ who infuses His Light to give us the light of understanding (Book 1:4b).  Those in darkness are enlightened by the Light of truth found only in Jesus Christ. The truth of God can be found nowhere else except in what is disclosed Personally by Jesus Christ.  The truth is from outside of us but is also planted and has taken root deep within us.  Therefore, the conversation between God and humanity is already taking place within us before anyone has the opportunity to say a single word.

The centrepiece for the gospel lies in the living breathing human being who is at the Father’s right hand in eternity.  The Word mutually indwells in the Father and the Spirit and the Word is now and forevermore the human being, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ also mutually indwells every single human being so the conversation between the divine Persons of the Trinity are within everyone’s earshot.  We are invited to participate in the Spirit’s ministry of revealing the Truth behind the cosmos, Jesus Christ in all.  Our role is to not only point people to Christ who is in us all, but to this very One who is also the sustainer of the whole created order and holds our hearts together.  Jesus Christ is not only Lord of all but also the Lord of His own truth.  The gospel is the Light of Knowledge, the eternal truth that lies nowhere else other than in the heart of the Triune God.  This is the Light we must endeavour to walk in and the many ministries who must also endeavour to do the same.

There is only One Light, Jesus Christ, who is our fixed premise.  We must also take into consideration the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit.  There is complete unity in Trinity clearly expressed in the ancient words, homoousion and perichoresis.  Homoousion was a concise description of ek tes ousias to Patri (out from within the being with the Father) giving this phrase a precise understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son and later on was also used to describe the Spirit.  To deter a reading into and a misconstruing by the Arians the Nicene Council chose homoousion to Patri over ek tes ousias to Patri.  It gave a definitive and clear understanding of the One Being of God of which Jesus Christ came out from within this one being with the Father but at the same time is of the same being with the Father and the Spirit.  Jesus Christ is all that the Father is without being the Father.  Jesus Christ is all that the Spirit is without being the Spirit.  Perichoresis describes the mutual knowing and indwelling of each of the Three Persons of the Godhead.  Humanity, along with all her faculties, are now in this mutual indwelling and knowing of the Father, Son and Spirit.  Therefore our entire humanity is in complete and utter unity with the Trinity in Jesus Christ.

It is of the utmost importance the Trinity is held together in precisely this way.  As soon as cracks start to appear and its foundation undermined, the significance of the knowledge of God found only in the Person and work of Jesus Christ is also undermined.  When it is undermined other premises are introduced that have nothing to do with the Light.  Those who hold to these fixed premises wield the power to manipulate and control others and bring them into strongholds contrary to the gospel.  We also start to lose the circular pattern in relationships in a face-to-face manner and a hierarchy is established in its place.  In addition, the union between humanity and the Trinity becomes judicially arbitrary rather than ontologically embedded in Jesus Christ.  This hierarchical, judicial and arbitrariness is often pasted back onto to God and the Trinity becomes structured in a subordinate way.  Instead of free access to the Father in the Son by the Spirit, we are directed to one who holds a prestigious ministerial or faculty office who mediates their premise to their followers.  It moves away from the covenantal, they will all know Me, to something that are fixed and rigid presuppositions giving a very distorted view that smothers the Light.  The more this Light is smothered by any anthropocentric premise or axiom, the more the ancient gospel is exchanged for something that is no gospel at all.

When we are diverted away from significance of the only Mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, we are not allowed to think for ourselves.  Instead, there tends to be an intense training of our minds to serve a corporation and enterprise on either a small or grand scale.  This requires us to understand the gospel on logical, cause and effect steps full of rules and regulation.  Every aspect of theology is laid out so that we naturally trend towards serving the church and/or ministry instead of serving Jesus Christ.   This is considered to be the accepted norm by the Christian community.  However, when the Truth of the ancient gospel is put forward, all modern Western ways of doing Christianity and doing church suddenly have huge question marks over it.  People from evangelicalism tend to go into flight/fright mode.  The reaction towards the ancient gospel is not always kind.  When such emphasis is placed on Jesus Christ in the theme of the ancient Trinitarian understanding, it is often met with wild accusations of heresy.  It often sends many mainstream Western churches leaders and attendees into a panic.  In my experience, the greatest concern mainstream churches have with the implications of the ancient gospel is the loss of control over their congregations.

Why panic?  Generally speaking, the leadership want the church to look like something, usually holy in a morally pure way.  If things are not working out, then the pressure is placed on congregations to clean up their act and work harder at remaining holy.  This doctrine of sanctification always places the carrot just out of our reach.  This is so not the gospel!  What makes us holy is to agree with what God says about us.  We are not perfect and we need to admit this to each other.  Our lives are a mess.  The church is filled with messy people with messy lives.  Accusing each other of imperfections from the higher moral ground as if we can judge from a position of moral perfection is living from our brokenness.  When we are in an environment where we can discuss freely our failings in all manner of our daily lives with love, kindness and empathy, it heals our brokenness, builds character and pulls us together giving us the ability to persevere.  It makes Jesus Christ very very real to us in such situations.  In turn, we become very real persons.

There is no high bar to jump over to be on the right side.  We must not let any form of high bar teaching enter into the  ancient Trinitarian gospel.  It is not about getting our theology right.  It is not about the perfect social action program.  It is not about making the perfect ethical choices.  It is not about singing the perfect worship song.  It is not about trying to put together a perfect sermon or teaching session.  It is not about having morally pure lives.  It is not about abiding by the law.  It is about abiding in Jesus Christ with the Father in His loving arms. Above all, it is about love.  Whatever we believe we should be doing, if love is not the prime motive, then it all means nothing.  We endeavour to the best of our ability to hold every human being with the utmost of dignity even if what they stand for flies in the face of everything we hold to be true.

Let’s take abortion as an example.  This ethical issue is abhorrent to most Christians.  Yet, if we use the ethical issue to coerce someone to not abort based on our version of morality, then we also need to take responsibility to bear the cost for that woman for her decision not to abort their child.   This cost to her might be financial.  Pregnancy might mean expulsion from the family or community for bringing shame etc for deciding to keep the child.  She may become the victim of an honour killing.  We show no love if we just walk away.  We might need to consider the medical expenses (in some countries this can be enormously extravagant), accommodation during pregnancy and the ongoing costs of rearing the child.  If the issue is so important to us then we need to put our money where are mouths are and be prepared to remove all obstacles that might prevent the woman from keeping her child.   Taking the moral high ground on such issues can destroy more lives than it can save.  It might save the unborn child but it might destroy the lives of both the mother and the child if we just walk away.  Prohibition may also mean women might seek illegal, backyard abortion clinics and pose a risk to their own health or even life.  Can we bear this cost?

The woman caught in adultery was condemned through the passionate protest and judgment of her accusers.  However, this passionate protest was diffused by the all-powerful love of the Almighty Lord Jesus Christ and her life and dignity was restored.  Passionate protest and judgment must be met with passionate restorative love.  Asking our government to bear the cost is a cop out.  Most governments simply cannot afford it.  If in the event we win our argument and are not prepared to accept the cost associated with it, then we should keep our mouths shut. If our position is to ban contraception, then we must bear the consequences of multiple births especially in the poorer nations and poor neighbourhoods.

James 2:14-17

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

If we push morality and convince women not to abort and we do not adequately meet their needs appropriate to their situation, do we say, “What you have done is right in the eyes of God, go in peace,” and then just walk away?  The love of God looks like something.  It is not inert.  If we are convinced in our own minds of God portrayed in the Person of Jesus Christ and do nothing in an active and practical way, then what does our faith stand for?  If birth control is prohibited and we commend those who submit to this prohibition to go in peace and we do nothing to address the dire poverty that some in the world may be driven to, what good is that?  Is this how we portray the face of Jesus Christ?

Abortion is an extreme example of taking personhood seriously so that love is followed through to the end.  It is not that I support abortion in anyway.  However, it is not as black and white issue as some make us believe.  There are real persons behind the ethical issue who may have genuine reasons and are satisfied in their own mind to take steps towards aborting their child.  Pushing morality in their faces will only exacerbate the pain they may already be experiencing and blind them from the love and reality of Jesus Christ.  It may also backfire giving them the resolve to go through with it.  The only way we can show ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ is to show love, support and respect for whatever decision is made as to whether or not to abort.  Even after such a decision to abort is made and as abhorrent it may be to us, the real rubber of love and support needs to hit the road showing the true mercy of God from beginning to end.  If we truly place our trust in the goodness of God then we let this goodness flow to everyone around us without partiality displaying acts of love and kindness.

We can learn the lesson of the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus.  When it came to crunch, the accusers all left and we applaud Jesus for showing the outright hypocrisy of such behaviour.  It was at this point the woman saw the reality of Jesus Christ.  Now if it was a woman who had an abortion who was brought before Jesus with her accusers armed with stones, would He not also show the very same hypocrisy?  If we point a finger at such a woman and accuse her of murder, are we not judging as evil men and women?  Are we not also adulterers?  Are we not also lawbreakers passing judgment in the face of the Judge?  Jesus never condoned adultery but met adultery with all-powerful love restoring life and dignity.  The point of the story is we are all lawbreakers who are shown all-powerful love and mercy in the God-Man Jesus Christ, the author of the Law, and we actually see it at work.  It is this all-powerful love we freely receive and so we freely give, passing it forward.  If it was a homosexual man brought before Jesus with the accusers armed with stones, would Jesus also show the very same hypocrisy?  Some may cry, “But what he is doing is evil!”  Yet, we are all evil but are met with the all-powerful love of God who dignifies and restores us.  The passionate protest would again be met by all-powerful love and mercy and I am sure the accusers would drop their stones and walk away.  I believe this passage shows us that we have to meet such moral situations in an entirely different way, the way of love.

This can be said for just about all the moral protests that are made by the more fundamental wings of the Christian church.  Even within the Trinitarian movement, there are those who are trying to put forward a moral or ethical issues that often cause division.  I find it sad that Christian political parties will often enter the political arena on moral platforms.  Sometimes it appears they are entering the arena with stones in hand instead of mercy.  All this does is exclude and destroys relationships.  There is always the threat the image of God displayed in the very humanity of Jesus Christ will be split and demarcations laid down to clearly show what is good and bad and what is right and wrong.  The love of God displayed in Jesus Christ is so radically different.

When the gospel is preached we want the Light of knowledge of Jesus Christ to shine completely and entirely on His own merit.  We do not follow Paul or Apollos or this ministry or that ministry, this church or that church.  We are not the moral police for society at large.  Society will decide for herself what is in the best interest of all people.  This may mean questionable issues are condoned.

However, we are messengers of Good News!  We all follow Jesus Christ.  Here is where the Light shines the brightest.  The ministries that shine are those that are shining the Light of Jesus Christ and instruct others to walk in His Light.  When we walk in the Light, we walk in Jesus Christ in the bosom of the Father bathed in His overwhelming love and devotion to us.  In doing so, we are set free from any kind of religion.  When we know the love of the Father fills out every part of our being and will never let us go, then we may minimise the risk of coming under anyone’s control.  The only judgment we are concerned with is the one the Triune God has made in Jesus Christ that He will not be God without us and He will never ever let us go. His all-powerful love crushes all passionate protest on moral platforms and works to restore people to the way they ought to be.  We learn to be controlled by the Spirit of Christ.  Jesus Christ wants us to stand with Him and know Him for ourselves.  He wants us to love with His heart and His hands.

We must continually remind ourselves to have our minds on Jesus Christ over and above everyone else.  Jesus Christ shows in a radical way what the love of God truly looks like.  It smashes down the boundaries and self-imposed limitations laid down by centuries of institutional religions.  By truly looking to Him and seeing who He truly is as the One who is of the same being with the Father and of the same being with us, we have very little to protest about on moral grounds.  The hardest thing for any of us to do is to drop our stones and walk away from issues that blind people from the true love of God seen only in the face of Jesus Christ.  Yet, this is what we are called to do.  It does not mean we have a free for all.  When we see Jesus Christ the way the woman caught in adultery saw Him, we begin to see others differently.  We begin to see how love works.  Understanding that we are treated with the utmost dignity courtesy and respect by the Triune God in spite of our dark and depraved natures, means we treat others in the very same way.  When we assent to the command to let Jesus Christ love us and we actually see how this love works, and in the very context of the woman caught in adultery in John 8, we realise there are no accusers.  In turn we have no right to accuse anyone else of anything.

1Corinthians 13:1-8b

 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails . .  .