Of Love and Reason

I’m a lawyer and the son of an engineer. I’ve always been a thinker and have felt most comfortable in that realm. Yet, as a Christian, I’ve found a frustration to the limits of my reasoning ability as I grow weary of trying to “figure it all out” in some sensible way.

As to reason, it certainly seems that we have some reasoning ability and that we are meant to use it. That doesn’t mean that it’s not without limits but I also don’t think that the sole point of having reasoning ability is to produce frustration over its limits and abandon reason altogether. For instance, I cannot completely disregard reason because I think that we would do so much better by remembering the lessons of history and using them to inform our reasoning rather than abandoning either reason or history. I believe history makes one conservative, not politically but by disposition. It makes me conscious of conserving the earth God gave us, conserving traditions that nurture us and conserving that which our history has taught us to be helpful. Reason and history have been seen as opposing concepts but I don’t think that humans can function well without doing our best to employ both synergistically. I also believe that there is a natural law because we all seem to live, act and speak as if there is some sort of moral code.

However, reason by itself is an unreliable guide. Everything from Marxism to slavery to misogyny to 9/11 bombers have been found reasonable at various times by various folks. As humans, we tend to each bring our own mental indigestion to bear on every topic we consider, not even being conscious of the ingredients of our historical feedings. The result is often a dissatisfying meal. That’s where being mindful of things like history and natural law come in. Still, I grow weary and restless.

One option is to suspend reason but that leads to a reliance on naked culture. That leads to a legalistic cultural fallback in terms of viewing all things God. There seems to be a natural human tendency to consider all religious questions through a harsh and absolute prism. It’s as if Pharisees abound in all ages and in all cultures. I’ve actually developed a small amount of sympathy (emphasis on “small”) for Pharisees. After all, Pharisees are trying to get it right. They just don’t seem to have it in themselves to let go of the need for clear rules. Unfortunately, clear rules are often based on culture, not God. Further, it’s altogether too easy to transform a rule book into a sword. I think that’s where things like love, grace, peace, faith and hope come in. The trouble is, such concepts are as hard to grasp as a wet fish flopping in a boat. So I’ve always relied on reasoning but have been left feeling short of the mark.

There are a great many things which I no longer believe or I do not believe with as much fervency. However, I am also cautious about replacing those things with anything else that carries the same fervency with it. I am mindful of the human tendency to advocate passionately for one cause because it is within that particular human beings’ personality to do so even though the cause may change in the future. I have come think of so many of my beliefs as cultural and have found it most useful to carry less belief-weight the older I get.

It’s interesting in the Bible that God didn’t change culture. Mass murder, revenge, polygamy, misogyny, slavery and such are allowed. Further Jesus points out that not all sick were healed and not all widows were cared for and that we will always have the poor with us. Yet God was greatly concerned with how people were treated. This may be instructive that God works with culture as it is in any given place at any given time. Also, God doesn’t resolve every wrong but does want us, even commands us, to love. Perhaps it means that God does not always look for political solutions and may even keep some solutions a mystery because the whole idea is to voluntarily love others.

Lately, I keep coming back to the two greatest commandments, on which all of the law and commandments hang. Love the Lord, God with all my heart, soul and mind. Love my neighbor as myself. When Jesus was questioned about who was a neighbor, he told the story of the Samaritan. Notice, the Bible never uses the word “good” ahead of “Samaritan”. The Samaritans were unclean and not to be associated with. So, to some, a Samaritan may be a crack-addicted, Muslim, bisexual. To me, a Samaritan is a member of PETA. The point is, no human being is excluded from being my neighbor.

I wonder if I’ve almost come to a point where I am a Christian existentialist. I believe in God out of despair and because I need God, not because I can reason Him into some mold I can grasp. Perhaps the meshing of Christian existentialism and human reason is that God is not likely to be found, at least satisfactorily, through human reason. That doesn’t mean that reason does not exist or isn’t useful. God gave us minds to use. However, it is not a means of grace and relying on human reasoning for knowing God will always leave us somewhere between slightly and greatly disappointed.

For some, they rely purely on reason and have rejected God entirely. I actually feel empathy toward the path those folks may have found themselves on. However, for me, my Christianity has always held, both because of reason and a gut sense that I think may be called faith. Without God, altruism and morals run on vapors, at best. Atheistic morals seem more superstitious than religion. Love is an inconvenient thing and it makes no sense to me apart from God. Yet, in my middle age and after a life time of thinking about these things, I feel reduced to a simple reasoned conclusion that I am to love God and love others and that is almost all that I am able to conclude. Again, maybe that’s what faith is. Maybe that simple notion is the whole and only reliable point of how Christians are supposed to conduct ourselves. Still, I grow weary of trying to understand. Maybe that’s where grace through faith comes in. Maybe that gives rise to hope. Maybe that gives rise to peace. I think, therefore I am. But love is the essence of human life.

Copyright February 2016

Daniel Blake

2 Replies to “Of Love and Reason”

  1. This was truly a favorite. Mental indigestion. Good. As satisfying as Richard Rohr or Nadia.

    Do you ever wonder if Jesus arrived to break up religions rather than create a new one. Haunts me.

    Like

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