love from the com­mand

God made me apart so that I could get closer.

Sicut Deus

This morning, a thought occurred to me while praying to God. It is an old thought, I’ve had it before but never in this way. You see often when I pray to God, I am confronted by my sins and imperfections and all the ways I have fallen short. “I am a Christian,” I say, “I shouldn’t be struggling with anger anymore.” Does not God hate sin? Didn’t His Son die so that I might be free? “Lord,” I pray, “Free me from this anger so that I can serve you.” Yet as I am write this now, the words of James in James 4:3,8 are ringing in my ears.

Okay then, how am I asking wrongly? I’m not asking for money. If anything, I’m asking to be able to do good. To be free from sin once and for all. But the Bible does not lie and James wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So what could be going on? It is clear that that God desires and commands that His children be good and holy. So what could be holding up the answer to this prayer? I have come to realize, in the course of writing this, that God CANNOT answer this prayer the way I want Him to. Nope, I will keep on sinning and find myself running back to Him. It is not that God is trying to keep me dependent on Him in the domineering way of women and men. Instead, it is because it is impossible to have holiness without God. If He grants me my “holiness” and I will take my wealth, my new found righteousness and return to the world. I will go out into the world and do good … apart from Him … which by definition is evil. The prodigal leaves and thereby becomes evil.

“You Keep On Using That Word…

But I argue and say to myself, “What I am striving for is holiness. What I want is holiness. Is not holiness doing good and at least striving for perfection? The Bible explicitly says that I should strive for holiness because I cannot see God without it Hebrews 12:14.” Yes, that is correct. But this is not the question at hand. No one is accusing me of a direct desire to do some particular evil. The real question is why I have this desire to be holy on my own terms. Why does my heart have this strong desire to wander? Why is it prone to leave God all the while claiming to love Him? It is not a question whether or not I want to be holy. This is a question of why I want to keep this space between me and Him. Why does this son always want to flee the Father and become prodigal?

Ah but I am clever. Yes, even too clever. In response, I said, “It doesn’t seem like I’m trying to do without God. After all, God has given me free will to make choices. Did He not call me friend? So I should be free to do at least some things on my own. If He is my Father and I am His son, should I not grow up and at least leave home, able to make my own decisions?” Finally, in these questions, I am closer to seeing my heart. This is the question of Eden. This is the question of the son and daughter who must grow apart from their parents but cannot yet see that they only grow apart from mommy and daddy in order to grow closer to them. This is the question that unravels marriages since husbands and wives must grow apart but only so that they can grow together. Through this question the devil fooled Adam and Eve by telling them the answer was to seek freedom from God and become sicut deus (like God).

Yet as usual, the devil offers to us what we already have. Adam and Eve were already free from God. God made them that way and this freedom from God was not an evil state. God did not make them evil and He did not make them with what others say is a potential for evil. Our relationship with God is multidimensional. He is my Father and I am His son. I am His friend, not by my pretension, but because He calls me friend John 15:15. And yet He previously said John 15:13-14 making it sound like I am still His servant. That He must be my Lord is emphasized further in 1 Cor 12:3. This can at times be confusing. It is difficult to be obedient to a friend since familiarity tends to breed contempt Mark 6:4. So maybe its better just to be a servant. But now my Lord calls me His friend. How can He call me friend and yet continue command me? How can obedience be basis of a friendship, of love?

…I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.”

I would seem that I am again guilty of abusing some words. This time, the victims are “freedom” and “friend”. In general, we are taught that freedom means the absence of boundaries and that a friend is someone who lets you do whatever you want to do. Yet relating to God reveals the true meaning of these words. When God befriends us, He creates a distance between us and Him and thereby allows us the freedom to be ourselves. Yet, as Bonhoeffer said, we can only be ourselves as long as we are ourselves for Him. This is the point of the whole Bible. To steal some more from that wonderful man, we were made free from God so that we can be free for God.

The preceding sentence should not really come as any surprise. Look at all your friendships. Consider the ones that are good and the ones that bad. In the good ones you will likely find that the other person is free in your presence but their freedom does not restrict your own. You are free around them in such a way that they are still free to be themselves. Freedom is not a marble statue. Freedom is a living forest. Freedom is a conversation and a relationship. In your good friendships you are free and yet you do not strive for a freedom from the other person. Instead you strive for a freedom that is for the other person. This is the only way to be a good friend. You turn your freedom from the other into a freedom for the other. This is the functional, practical definition of love. Love is what you are doing when you shape your freedom from the other person into a freedom that is for the other person. I clearly am separate from you and don’t willingly have to do anything for you. Yet love is when I use my freedom from you for you. Love is when I see and use the inevitable space between us as a means of getting closer to you. Another word for this is pursuit.

It is the taking up your life in order to lay it down. It is what Jesus did when He came here to die on the cross. As Creator of everything, He was clearly free from us and yet He used this freedom from us, for us. Unto the death. Therefore He said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And later in John 15:15, He calls the disciples friends. When He said in John 15:14, that they are His friends if they do His Commands, He is saying, “I have become your friend by turning my freedom from you into a freedom for you. Now I am allowing you to become my friend by giving you the opportunity to do the same for me. Shape your freedom from me into a freedom for me by obeying my commands.”

Agapē Pará Entellō: Love From The Command

Love and the command are inseparable in both heavenly and earthly relationships. Any definition of love that does not include the command is a darkness that unravels in the light. The devil’s lie was to trick us into collapsing a multidimensional relationship with God into a futile escape from Him. Adam and Eve were tempted into pursuing a freedom from God as if God hadn’t already made them free from Him. Instead, they should have been using their freedom from God, given to them by God, in order to be free for God. In other words, they should have been loving God.

The first Command God gave to Adam and Eve was not a constraint. It was not a temptation to sin. It was an invitation into friendship. Every other command from God since then has only been an exposition of that first command. By commanding them not to eat of the tree, God was encouraging them into a love for Him. It is not a surprise then that the first Commandment at Sinai was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:5 Only by His Word of Command, could He make Himself vulnerable to their love.

Just imagine how frustrating it would be to have a friend who did everything for you but whom you could never do anything for. Imagine trying to be a friend to a person without knowing their preferences, without knowing their likes or dislikes. Now imagine that This Friend was far Greater than you and not anything like you. Imagine that this Friend made you. His Thoughts were not your thoughts and His Ways were not your ways. At least with a human being, you can guess since people are all essentially the same. But unless God tells you, you could never begin to guess at His Desires. How would you ever get God a gift? You wouldn’t even know what He wanted or whether your attempt at a gift was in reality the deepest offense?

The commandments of God are a list of God’s likes and dislikes. He gives them to help you become His friend. Of Moses, His friend, it is said that he knew God’s ways while Israel only knew His acts Psalms 103:7. Hence, God is deeply touched when David thinks on his own to build God a house 2 Samuel 7:1-9, 12-16. God did not command David to build Him a house. Instead, David used his freedom from God to be free for God. Finally, here was a man after His Heart. Here was a man who understood and pursued the beating Heart at the center of His Law.

The Word Heals

All the preceding can either have been a revelation or a source of confusion. I think right now I am somewhere in between. But I know it is truth. So keep considering your relationships and then practice obedience to God and this truth will emerge. Often as a Christian, you must hold on to and find the unity between two seemingly opposing thoughts. In this world, this unity and inseparable dependence between love and the command is not commonly said and rarely practiced. Their unity is what, on earth, we call a paradox. Yet in heaven, this is called logic. In the beginning these thoughts were not opposed. Adam and Eve ate and spend time with their Lord, the Creator Genesis 3:8. Yet as the verse shows, what had been a time of fellowship, through sin became a time of hiding and opposition. So also, these two ideas of freedom from others and freedom for others seem to be in opposition now but only because of the first sin. When you put them together, they react to produce that most precious and rarest of gems called love.

This thought, like the many other so called Christian paradoxes we have been dealing with, was once a unity. But sin and devil has divided them. It is not for nothing that he is called the father of lies. He is the corrupter of words. Yet Jesus is the Word Uncorrupted. So literally, He is the Unity between these ideas. Not incidentally, God is Love 1 John 4:8,16. Translated, He is Freedom from us Who decided to Be for us 1 John 4:10 so that Paul says where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom 2 Cor 3:17. Think these thoughts in your head and unify them in Him. He has come to not only restore our spirit and bodies but also to heal and restore our language and our thoughts.

“… Morn­ing by morn­ing He Awak­ens; He Awak­ens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”
- Isaiah 50:4

Wanna reach out and ask me some ques­tions? Or do you want clar­i­fi­ca­tion on some­thing writ­ten here? If so, write me a let­ter. I’d love to hear from you and I’ll respond. I bet your hon­est ques­tion will pro­duce insights that will ben­e­fit other read­ers.