by Peter Rollins
There is an ancient legend that speaks of God’s struggle to guide the destiny of humanity. It is said that God had grown tired of the way that mortals constantly lose their way, creating disasters as they go. So he sent out his angelic messengers to gather together the timeless wisdom contained in the world and to place this wisdom in a multitude of books that would be housed in a great library—a library that mortals could use in order to work out how they should live and act in the world.
When, after many millennia, the great task was completed, the colossal library stood proudly in one of the world’s great cultural capitals, dominating the skyline. However, this huge building contained too many books for any individual to read. It was all but impossible to reach for the majority of people, and the library’s sheer size was enough to put anyone off even entering it. So God demanded that his couriers compress the essential wisdom into a single encyclopedic book.
Once completed, this single work was widely circulated, but the manuscript was so huge that one could hardly lift it, let alone read it or put what it said into practice. So yet again God put his couriers to work, crafting a booklet with all the essential information. But the people were lazy and there were many who could not read, so the booklet was refined into a single word, and that word was sent out on the lips and life of a messenger.
And the word?
It was love.
I was reflecting on this story recently when I most recently heard that someone felt I was maligning the character of God. So this made me reflect on God at what is God in God’s essence. This story reminds me that all the various rules, laws, creeds, ethics can be boiled down to one word and simultaneously arise from that word. This word wasn’t just the central message of Jesus but it was incarnated by Jesus. Sometimes when I try to dial down the position of belief in faith, people get upset. In no way do I forget that faith is expressed in love. I know this. It’s from a real desire to come to terms what this world means that we come up with theories, laws, theologies, creeds, rules. The problem is when these very structures meant to help us understand the world and the event of God become unyielding.
So at the same time that love motivates us to seek solutions to environmental problems, political issues, and ethical problems in the world, love also motivates us to question the very solutions that we have found to see if these political, environmental, and ethical solutions actual do liberate us from the shackles of these problems. Without love, the political and ethical systems become oppressive and rigid. Without love, we become dogmatic and didactic legalists, serial ritualists who follow books and creeds without regard for human life and the true purpose of those books and creeds.
Remember the law always falls short of justice, the ideal to which it leans. If it did not, we would never need to test it or probe it to see if it delivers the justice of its intent and then amend it when we realize it doesn’t.