By: Robert D Brinsmead
A father cannot void his being the father of any of his own children. They remain his children no matter what and he remains their father no matter what. Citizenship is like that. It is unconditional.
Another example: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The commandment is not that you do this under certain conditions. Another person remains your neighbour no matter what, just like national citizenship or fatherhood, this relationship cannot be cancelled. As long as he breathes, you owe him love, concern for his well-being, and you cannot justify treating him in an unloving or inhumane way. Many things are conditional – business contracts, employment, degrees from a University, success in occupations and sporting contests, etc.- is not contested. Educational systems that pass all students are not worth a cracker.
God sends us into this very uncertain, challenging world to experience life with all its opportunities and possibilities that are truly endless in all directions. It is up to us whether we waste our life on trifles or fill it with meaningful enterprise. Everything we undertake is full of uncertainties because there are so many conditions that appear to make life very iffy. We have a chance at enjoying good health and a long life IF we get the right parents to give us the right genes and then don’t get run over by a bus. Life will go much better if we get the right partner in marriage, but to a great extent if you do choose the right person it will often be more good luck than good judgment because you don’t really know what a partner will be like until you live with your choice. You can choose your education path, your career, occupation. You can choose whether to work for a boss or be your own boss, and it will be largely up to you to determine what things in life are really important and what are not, and the meaning of all the sound and fury that you will encounter along the way. You may confront the possibilities of success in this path or that path, but success is never a sure thing. It may be on condition of good health that you can easily lose whether by your lifestyle, your genes or accidental happenings that can ruin your career and life’s work in one wrong move or one bad accident which may come about through no fault of your own.
Success, happiness and good fortune is no more certain than failure, sorrow and disasters that lurk around every corner. There are victims of misfortune that confront us all the time. Whether or not you are going to have a pleasant journey through life is very conditional – conditional not only on what you do, but conditional on what others do and conditional on what fate does to you. .
All of the above is plain to see but we may still face life with courage, generosity and with love. We may discover the treasure that is hid in the field. It is the unconditional that enables us to live with courage, generosity, forgiveness, patience, endurance and what Spong calls “loving wastefully.”
In the fun movie called “The Best Marigold Hotel” there is a great one-liner. The group of Western guests who come to the Hotel to retire and find happiness in their sunset years discover that the hotel is not all that it was cracked up to be. It’s a bit like India where not everything works – or putting it bluntly, it is a bit of a shambles. It’s like a parable of life Life which can be very disappointing and can hold nasty surprises. But back to the Hotel and its young CEO who is trying to keep his grumbling guests happy. He met their grievances by cheerfully saying in his memorable Indian accent, “Everything will be all right in the end. And if everything is not all right, then it is not the end.”
The unconditional means that despite all the uncertainties of life, life is God’s gift grounded in his eternal, unconditional love. It means that life is set before and behind with a love that will never leave us or forsake us, a love that will remain faithful when we are faithless, a love (or a righteousness) that will not be made better by our good frame of mind or worse by our bad frame of mind, a love that is not tied to what we think of God but on what God thinks of us.– This is the great unconditional that means that we can afford to be generous, forgiving, courageous and patient and free to have a go, to give life our best shot, because whatever happens “everything will be all right in the end.” There are no ifs and buts about this foundational plank of the universe.
I have thought much about this through the years. Love (which is always unconditional) never interferes with human freedom – which implies human responsibility.
If Jesus was God or had some pipeline to God that we don’t have, and he obviously cared for the plight of the poor, why didn’t he tell us something about the germ theory of disease rather than leave people to regard it as some kind of demon possession? Why did he not drop us some insights that we can now find in Bernstein,” How the Modern Age of Prosperity Was Born?” The average life span of people in Palestine in the time of Jesus was 30 years of age, and Jesus did nothing to improve that, or tell us how to improve that. Today we know a lot of what is now accepted as simple things about nutrition that can stop diseases such as scurvy and rickets. We know how traces of iodine are so necessary for basic human well-being. We know about vitamins and minerals, carbs and proteins and lots of other basic stuff than neither Jesus or anyone else in his day knew anything about.
If God loves the world and cares about human poverty and disease, why has God’s so-called “special revelation” been so deficient on such basic human need? The only answer to these questions that I have is to say that with love there comes an appalling amount of human freedom that is indispensable for true human development. There are some things that God can’t do, such as build Rome in a day – not if involves a human culture and a human development. Of course the story of the Tower of Babel is a myth, because even God could not teach us a human language in a day just as God can’t form a human character in a day. The earth is man’s domain. If humankind is to grow up and become educated, then God can’t do our homework. God can’t even do our research. With love comes a freedom and a responsibility to find out for ourselves. How long did it take humanity to find out that the sun does not really go around the earth? How long did it take us to find out that the most dangerous critters on this earth are not lions, hippos and crocs, but lethal things we can’t see carried by such things as mosquitoes. Surely God could have told Jesus or Muhammed to tell us that mosquitoes kill more human beings than all other animals?
I am reminded of the professor who asked the students, “Who can tell me what electricity is?” Bill put up his hand, but when he tried to explain what it was, he said he had forgotten. Well, said the professor, there are only two people in the entire universe who can tell us what electricity is – Bill and God. Bill has forgotten, and God won’t tell us. So love and freedom are like a two-sided coin.
Jesus did not have the insights of Adam Smith any more than he had the insights of Pasteur – or Galileo. He knew about a love that demanded care and concern for the poor, but he has nothing to tell us in respect to the pros and cons of either Capitalism or Marxism. God has obviously left us with a lot of things to find out for ourselves. Given we have the gifts of reason, human consciousness and a potential that is infinite in all directions, you can’t say God has not left us with the tools to find out.
“Love is all there is.” (An Indian mystic)
“All’s you need is love.” (Popular song).
Neither of these statements, understood in the right way, are far from the kingdom of God.
A Gentile came to Hillel, the greatest Pharisees in history (110BCE – 10 CE), to ask whether he could explain the Torah (or Law) to him while he stood on one leg. Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”
In his most memorable enunciation of his core teaching Jesus said the same thing: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12.
St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “The entire law is summed up in a single command, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (5:l4)
Could anything be plainer that love encompasses “the whole duty of man” – if we may coin that expression from Ecclesiastes?
If we stand on the sidelines yelling “what about justice?” then it shows that we haven’t listened to and understood the wisdom of Hillel, Jesus or Paul. Love is the essence of justice, the whole of justice and the sum of justice. The rest is commentary.