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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Theology Tuesday II

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
- The Second Epistle of St. Peter, Chapter 1, Verses 5-9

What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.
-Jackie Deshannon

Why is this? Why does the world need love? After all, as Jesus Christ has come to earth, who is not only the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), but as He and the Father are one (John 10:30), He is also Love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, as Love has come to earth, why do we need so much of it still?

The answer is contained within Peter's second letter. What we cannot help but see is that true Love is not bestowed upon the Christian at First Communion, Confession, Salvation, Baptism, etc. It would seem to be inherently obvious - Christ is Love, and we are not to expect that we would immediately become perfect in love, even as our heavenly Father is perfect, is, well, silly.

Instead, we have a clear progression laid out here by St. Peter for us. Once we have established our faith, we then progress to virtuous living. This virtuous living is primarily acts of commission, not omission - that is, doing good works, not just avoiding the bad. While I can personally attest to the fact that there are immediate changes in one's life that come as a result of faith in Christ, they are by no means complete.

After virtue comes knowledge, which is, knowledge of the will of God through prayer and study of the Word. Note how in each case, the character trait in question is one that is to be added. This implies that work is involved. Not only is each of these a gift from God, but they are gifts that we are required to reach out and receive. After all, a gift under the Christmas Tree is still a gift, even though we have to work by going to the tree, getting it, and opening it up, then using it. The knowledge is easily correlated with the work required of prayer and Bible study.

Knowledge is followed by adding temperance, simply, moderation in the good thing sin life. This is an avoidance of excess while acknowledging that the good things are not evil in themselves - a difficult task indeed, if we merely look around at our peers. The Mormons declare caffeine to be evil, while my first Sergeant claims it is his lifeblood. The same can be seen with Southern Baptists, who avoid all alcohol, and the typical college student, who imbibes the maximum (and sometimes, tragically, more) alcohol possible. Temperance says that I can recognize that Jennifer Gardner is very attractive, but can't put posters of her on the wall, and realize when my recognition of the beauty of her creation is being replaced by lust. Hence, I don't watch Alias.

Perhaps it is with patience that we most often fail, and hence, fail to advance. It is a character trait held by few. We want it all, we want it all our way, and we want it now. The standard human condition of being this way has been made worse by a materialistic and fast-food/FedEx/internet shopping culture. By the way, if you ask God for patience, don't be surprised by the hailstorm of tribulation you receive - for that is the only way to develop patience (James 1:3-4, Rom 5:3-4). However, tribulation is not a guarantor of patience, just as having flour does not guarantee a biscuit. You can still just dump the flour on the floor - similarly, you can just rail against God and fail to achieve patience.

Godliness - the child-like reverential awe for God that is missing in today's Church and her members. It is only through patience that we can reach this point of appreciating His grace and omnipotence.

Brotherly kindness is the manner in which we treat our fellow believers, giving them the benefit of the doubt and the gifts that we would to those who are members of our heavenly family, who are heirs to the inheritance that we are, and in every regard, to be esteemed as worthy of such kindness.

Lastly, charity, or love as an action. Look at what must be accomplished to get to the love showed by Christ, who gave all for those who would kill him! That is why the sacrifice had to be accomplished by God, for no human is capable on their own. It is precisely because he has done it that we can strive to it, and succeed. It is a love that gives to the unworthy, a love of the unlovable, and a heart for those who do not want our care for them. It is a love embodied by the Blessed Mother Theresa and by the reverend Billy Graham. It is a love to which I have not yet attained.

The last verse shows why we do it at all - because Jesus Christ saved me from my sins while I was (and still am) not worthy. His sacrificial love is what we should aspire to, because he has done it for us. To fail to continue to strive for it is a failure of memory and of faith.


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