Sunday, September 6, 2009

As Close as the East is to the West

It has been said that Micah 6:8 sums up the message of the minor prophets:

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?"

It is indeed a great summation of the voices crying out in the near-eastern desert, but I would contend that it also encapsulates western thought quite nicely, and furthermore that the best of the west might help us to better understand this theological feast of the east.

Three imperatives are presented here: 1.) to do justice, 2.) to love kindness, and 3.) to walk humbly with God. I, like Augustine, do not believe it a stretch to see God's wisdom revealed through certain pagan men's honest (albeit blind) pursuit of the ideal, and therefore I have unapologetically assigned these actions to Greek counterparts: ethos, pathos, and logos.

"Do justice." Ethos: the "oughtness" of things, is characterized by the heart (will). The pursuit of justice and deconstruction of injustice is to be the daily activity of a Godly person. Unlike Kant's morality, ethics is not duty-based. Aristotle, like David, knew that the actions of an ethical man flow from his heart. The justice we do flows from who we are, not who we would like to become if we could only do enough justice. We are sons of God, the Just: therefore we do justice. This is goodness in the fullest degree.

"Love kindness." Pathos: the passion of things, is characterized by the gut (desire). The literal translation for this lovingkindness in Colossians 3 is "bowels of mercy" It's an intense and almost uncontrollable desire; an unquenchable thirst for something: in this case, for the Hebrew "hessid." Hessid is mercy of the deepest unction: reconciling the broken, redeeming the fallen, upholding the frail and celebrating the weak. In the Western world, bourgeois art was characterized by the beauty of raw desire. Taken at its purest, we can see in Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa" the rapturous encounter of a fallen woman with her passionate lover of a God. A lover who kindly pursues His unworthy beloved even to his own death: this is beauty to the fullest degree.

"Walk humbly with your God." Logos: the reason of things, is characterized by the mind (thought). As two sides of a coin, humility captures the essence of truth. C.S. Lewis, the great synthesizer of western ideas, stated that "humility is not thinking less of oneself, but thinking of oneself less." Man could do with a lot less thinking of himself, this is for certain. The conflict of human history in its entirety can be attributed to man's unwillingness to lay himself aside. But the profundity of our arrogance is far outweighed by the profundity of God's humility. St. Paul reminds us that we owe our eucatastrophe to the ultimate humility of Jesus Christ, who, being in his very nature God, though it not a position to be obtained, but instead humbled Himself, even to death on a cross. The cross is truth to the fullest degree.*

I find myself wondering whether I'm stretching or not when I make these arguments, but it sure is good exercise. I hope my thoughts are a help to those who read them and are utterly forgettable to those who might be hindered by them.

*Paul also tells us that the cross is foolishness to the Greeks, but even John uses the Logos as the subject of his gospel. We can quibble on this one if you'd like; I think I could be swayed by some good rhetoric.

1 comment:

T-Bear said...

This was the YEW theme this year and it seems to have impacted the kids greatly. Its also a favorite verse of mine and I like the way you have expounded upon it.