But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments.... Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 5-6, 9)
I sometimes wonder if Paul's theology of the cross, and some of his other instructions, have taken us away from the simple message of Jesus. For that matter, much of church doctrine and theology that has developed over the centuries, since Jesus died, seems also to have taken us away from the simple teachings of Jesus himself when he was alive.
Yesterday, reading St. Augustine's Confessions, I gained some insight into the development of theology. As a young adult, Augustine wondered about Evil. Why does evil exist? This is one of many thought-provoking questions people ask to try to fathom the meaning of life. His search for an answer led him to the Manichean belief system. The Manichean's believed in Dualism. That is, they believed there are two natures in the world, Good and Evil, which are completely separate and at war with each other. This was apparent in many different areas: the Old Testament God of Wrath vs. the New Testament God of Love; Matter was Evil, Spirit was Good. Eventually, Augustine came to understand that this separation of Good and Evil did not ring true. So, based upon his own experience of God, and in opposition to Manichean dualism, he developed his own theology. And he declared dualism an heresy.
In general, this is how our theology is developed. We seek to understand God in relation to life's great mysteries. Often our beliefs are formed when we run into beliefs that don't match our own understanding or experience. In this way, we develop and solidify our own belief system, our theology. Sometimes, we teach our beliefs as the Truth, and declare other belief systems False. Fundamentally, however, the answer to life's great mysteries is unknown, and can never be known.
Theology is developed in order to bring us closer to understanding God, and it certainly can help. But, our theology also has the potential to draw us away from God. The passage above seems to be addressing this concern. How can this happen?
It is possible that our theology can become more important to us than a simple faith. When this happens, then we are in danger of making our beliefs into idols. If our belief system causes us to judge negatively the differing beliefs of others, and to separate ourselves from others who think differently, then we are in danger of making ourselves God. When we replace a very simple faith in God (the faith of Abraham, of David, and of Jesus), with an over-arching belief system, we may be violating the two greatest commandments of all: to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And yet, what is the alternative? To believe nothing? To accept everything? I don't think either is necessary. Jesus taught us the way of God. He showed us how to live as God wants us to live: with Love being the primary motivator. It is a way that children especially find easy to understand. Adults tend to make things much more complicated, but the teachings of Jesus are all we need, to understand all we need.
Dear God, keep me always on your simple path of love. Please keep Jesus always in my mind. Love always, Pam