Every individual person I meet is interesting. Everyone has a story. Each person has values which are important to them, and you can usually tell what a person treasures. For example, my wife cares about kids. Children are a high value to her. You can tell immediately when meeting her that that’s true. When engaging a family for the first time, she will inevitably talk to the child before addressing the parents. Mary cares about any kind of issue in the world which has to do with children. She has a strong sense of morality for all of them. She loves kids.
Have you ever thought about what is of most importance to you? What we care about most is where our sense of morality lies. Jesus put it this way:
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
Perhaps you have discovered, like I have, that everyone is moralistic. That is, each one of us live by a certain code of ethics. There are morals which we will live and die by. These are values we esteem above all others.
Although there are hundreds of laws in the Bible, the highest standard of ethics and morality is contained in just a few chapters of Holy Scripture: The Ten Words (Commandments) found in the Old Testament chapter of Exodus 20; and, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament chapters of Matthew 5-7. Furthermore, these few chapters can be distilled into a few short ethical phrases: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). In other words:
Every moral teaching found in Holy Scripture comes down to love (Mark 12:30-31)
Throughout the history of the church, the highest ethical values have always had to do with knowing and loving the Creator, Sovereign, triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit – and the majesty of his creatures, humanity, created in his image and likeness. The imprint of that image is deep within us, even if marred or forgotten.
The movement and trajectory of Holy Scripture is a good and benevolent God making and keeping promises to his creatures. Even when they fall and try to create small petty worlds of their own, a gracious God is active, wooing lost people back to himself.
The Bible is an unfolding drama of redemption in which a loving God goes far out of his way to bring back straying, hurting, helpless people. (Luke 15)
Which is why, for me, attending to the inner person of the soul, teaching people the words and ways of Jesus, and providing spiritual care to others is a high value. I love God, and I love people. It’s easy to understand, then, why I: treasure times of retreat in which there is solitude and silence; connect with God daily in contemplative prayer and meditative Bible reading; pay attention to hurting people and seek to bring them grace, mercy, faith, hope, love, and gentleness; seek to act with civility and respect toward others I disagree with, or just don’t like very well; and, actively engage others who don’t share my values of faith in God, hope for healing and wholeness, and love for the common good of all people, no matter who they are.
I have a deep conviction that the care of the soul is just as important as the care of the body; that attention to exercising the mind with Holy Scripture is just as important to overall health and well-being as cardio workouts and sensible eating; and, that the ultimate hope of the world resides with knowing Jesus Christ, and not with a lesser hope that wishes things will work out in the end if I’m sincere to my personal ethical beliefs.
The rub to all of this is that I have my ideals and ethics, my morals and mores, my values and convictions, yet I don’t consistently live by them. *Sigh* I’m sure you relate. The Apostle Paul certainly did:
“I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate…. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.” (Romans 7:15-20)
If honesty and being real is of high value to you, then you and I can admit that we blow it, a lot! But we can come back to the love of God which is there waiting for us to confess our need and receive grace:
“I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me…. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?
“Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-23)
It simply isn’t helpful to tell other people to “get over it.” All people need deliverance from the power and presence of their inner (and outer) brokenness. A person cannot remove destructive vice and heal their own soul any more than someone could remove their own cancerous tumor and heal themselves. We all share the common human condition of needing the living healing water of Jesus Christ.
Which brings me back to God and the care of souls – being with Jesus has led me to grace and faith, hope and love, mercy and encouragement, forgiveness and reconciliation. These are values for which I embrace and will not deviate from. Even though I live them imperfectly, there is a perfect God who has my back. He loves me, and He loves you. I’m okay if that’s labeled as moralistic.