that he gave the gentleman five dollars.
Photo by Linda McCloud +
Christians are often a curiosity to non-Christian onlookers. Why do we attempt to behave according to certain standards, and who sets those standards? And what happens when we fail to live up to those standards?
I believe our ethical norms of behavior are somehow an attempt to respond to the love of God outpoured on us in Jesus Christ. Still the question remains, “Why do I as a Christian have it as my goal to observe certain behavioral standards?” St. Augustine said that because we know we are going to die, we want peace in our rational soul. In describing Christian standards, St. Augustine says that we view all peace – of body or soul, or of both – in relation to that peace which exists between mortals and Almighty God.
Augustine says that we do so in order that we may exhibit an ordered obedience in faith in subjection to the everlasting law. In other words, we strive to do the right things. We are to love God and love our neighbor, with the implicit self-validation of loving ourselves. In order to do this, there are two norms:
1) Do no harm to any one (this is reflective of the Hippocratic Oath); and
2) Help everyone whenever possible.
These two norms can be compared to a peaceful river which flows along and nourishes everything in its path. But how can we let these two norms govern us? One answer could be virtue-based ethics, or standards of behavior. By way of clarification, the cardinal virtues are temperance, courage, prudence and justice. Christians have baptized these ethics and adopted them, but we hold even higher the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
Charity, or love, has them all covered. So let us hold love as our highest goal. I would suggest that the door of the cardinal virtues swings both ways – that if we do no harm to anyone and help whenever possible, we will live lives of temperance, courage, prudence and justice, guided by faith, hope, and love. In the midst of all this, we must be clothed with humility, or else our virtues could turn to vices if we try to impose them on others. Humility means knowing that all virtues come from God. The ideal of the Christian character is the earthly life of Jesus Christ. Even those who were opposed to Jesus conceded that “He has done everything well.”
Do we have peace in our rational souls because we try to conform to the norms of behavior set by Jesus, or do we try to conform to those norms because through faith we have peace with God? And last but not least, is it possible to make these ideals our norms of everyday behavior? Does it all come down to asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” And further, how can we be sure what Jesus would do?
Sometimes, we are a curiosity even to ourselves.
The Rev. Linda McCloud
The Episcopal Church of Our Savior at Honey Creek