On Dependence: Part 4, Coda

Part 3 of this series might have left you with some questions. So I'm adding on a coda to try to answer some of those. 

In Part 3, I made the argument that God is not a competitor for our love. Grace, being grace, needs nothing from us. This frees us to turn away from God and toward each other. 

But having said that, you might be wondering: Then what's the point of loving God? Or praying to God? Or going to church? Or trying to follow God's commands?

The facts of the matter are that relationship with God does take time, energy, effort, and attention. And given that investment, God does enter into the calculus of how I allocate my life. And if that's so, hasn't God become, as I said in the last post, a "relational competitor"? For example, to be concrete about it, if I'm away on a weekend contemplative retreat I am not at home being a father and a spouse. 

So how can we address this paradox?

Well, I think the thing to remember is that we are sick. And I'm not a very good father and spouse because of that sickness. More, my wife is sick and so are my children. You, too, are sick. We all are. So if the insight we take away from "grace needs nothing from us" is that we can safely ignore God we've missed the underlying point about why we need grace in the first place. Again, going back to Part 1, if all we have is our sick, needy selves we are not going to love each other safely and healthily. So the point of "investing" in time with God isn't to insert God as competitor in our lives. God is, rather, medicine, the Love where my loves are healed. So we need to spend time with this Love. We need to take our medicine, through prayer, ritual, word, sacrament, worship, communal gathering, and codes of behavior. For example, a command like "Thou shalt not commit adultery" isn't a thundering wrathful God demanding I love Him at the expense of my wife. As should be blindingly obvious, the command "Thou shalt not commit adultery" is medicine, a medicine that helps me love my spouse. When sick people are learning to love moral guardrails are extraordinarily helpful. So are regular doses of prayer, Bible study and worship.

Now, of course, this entire dynamic needs constant discernment. The sad stories here are numerous, zeal for God coming at the expense of loving others. Much of the New Testament is about policing this exact temptation. It's why Jesus appends Leviticus 19 to the Shema of Israel, and why 1 John asks the question, "How can you say you love God while hating your brother and sister?"

To conclude, the point here is simply to say that, yes, life with God is both necessary and demands an investment of resources: God can't be safely ignored. Sick people require medicine. But the point of that investment and that medicine is for the healing of my loves. I may take a weekend away from my family to go to a contemplative retreat. But I do so to return home with a healed heart, as a father and husband filled with Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I need a Love to help me love.

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