Friday, June 5, 2009

Assymmetric Obligation

Remember the kindergarten cut-outs? “Fold along the line of symmetry,” the teacher instructed. We did and it was good –as long as we used the stencil and cut along the lines. Otherwise we would be asymmetric with two sides that are different either in proportion or design.

Symmetry seems to produce a feeling of equilibrium and beauty we value in our art and architecture. But, relationships are not often symmetric, especially in the Kingdom of God. We are instructed in Luke, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even "sinners" love those who love them. And if you do good for those who do good for you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that . . ." In fact, the very nature of Agape love is that it moves first! Agape always advances. Like the Father that saw his son still a long way up, lifted his robe, and sprinted in an unroyal race to greet his son the Kingdom of God is not symmetric. He did not move in perfect rhythm with his son, but went the extra mile to greet him. This love is graceful, committed, and full of unmerited favor -not symmetric.

Brief aside: I do believe that God desires a symmetric relationship with us like the lover is Song of Songs says, "I am my lovers and he is mine." He desires for us to feel completely loved and for our hearts to be in complete desire to be like His heart. That is why he is always telling us such things as "Be holy as I am holy" and "Be merciful as I am merciful".

But, I often wonder what Agape looks like for our political system. Does this seemingly personal command to practice Agape love transfer to a collective voting process with government programs? Our system transfers money, goods, and services without requirement to those in need. In contrast, many earlier Christian charities required minute tasks such as wood chopping, whitewashing walls, or sewing garments in order to receive charity. Essentially, if these charities knew that work was not available for the alms asker they put them to work.
Those who refused the tasks, "gained classification as "Unworthy, Not Entitled to Relief" [or] "those who prefer to live on alms . . .". Does the requirement for some work disqualify the lodging, food, etc. from charity or agape love? Or, does the requirement deepen the respect and dignity both parties have for each other?

Since the human response to love is not always gratitude that leads to action we can not live in the ideal world. The ideal world being that each person so motivated by the love they have been shown demonstrates their appreciation by asking what part they can perform. Instead we seem to be forced into obligating those people to work or continually giving money without placing any obligation to the taxpayer placed on the recipient. The latter has turned into entitlement which is certainly undesirable because people cease to view the help as charity. The former may be undesirable because organizing mass amounts of people to work would also cost money and again there is the question of whether it is really charitable. Are the least of these able bodied men and women?

Fundamentally this comes down to a question a very bright friend of mine asked me, "Doug, do you believe you can systemitize the Kingdom of God." My reply, "I'm not sure, but I don't think you can." Then, I do not think agape love is for the government but for people. Surely, this is one of the most interesting experiments: Place a self interested human, with free-will, in the world, show him/her the message of truth and see if they can learn how to love.

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