Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows.... -- Ps. 16:4
Reading this Psalm again today, I was reminded of the words from Merton that had meant so much to me yesterday: "We receive as much of the charity of Christ as we are willing to deny ourselves of any other love." (pg. 182, No Man is An Island) As I wrote yesterday (in "If Left to My Own Devices...), sometimes, my inclination is to love myself more than others. If I do so, however, I make myself a god.
On NPR this afternoon, Diane Rehm was interviewing Eric Felten, the author of a new book titled, "Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue." Mr. Felten and Ms. Rehm had a fascinating discussion on both the necessity and the pitfalls of loyalty. Loyalty is essential in loving relationships. I think of the traditional marriage vows, which are a beautiful expression of loyalty: to love through thick or thin, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer.... This kind of loyalty is the basis of all kinds of lasting relationships, be that between friends, children, spouses, parents, etc..
But Felten and Rehm also talked about misplaced loyalties. Many people put complete trust in Bernie Madoff. Many people put complete trust in Hitler. I think when you put absolute trust in anyone, even a loved one, such that you would accept whatever they do or want you to do without question, you are making that person your god. As the psalm said, this leads to sorrow.
My husband, who is agnostic, sometimes expresses his concern that I love God more than I love him. He worries because he knows the phrase, "If you would be my disciples, you must leave your mother, your father, your wife, ... and follow me." Well, he is right, but he need not worry. My love for God is greater than my love for any other person, even my husband. But, God points me back to my husband and to my children and to everyone else with greater and greater love. Because I love God best, I am learning to love others better.
I am committed to my husband. I am committed to my children. I am committed to my friends. I am committed to working through all the difficulties that may come up between us. But I know that I can only put my complete trust and loyalty, such that I obey without question, in God.
Now, how can I be sure that I am obeying the one, true God, and not some other god? By keeping in mind that God is Love. God requires me to love others sacrificially, in which I do not fear my own death in my efforts to love them as God wants me to love them.
In the news today was the story of a father and daughter who were camping in Alabama when the terrible tornado hit. A tree fell on their tent, killing the father, who had used his body to protect his daughter. The daughter survived. That is sacrificial love.
Also in the news was a report on doctors at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center who treated detainees for their injuries acquired from "enhanced interrogation techniques" (ie. torture). These doctors never questioned the cause of the injuries, nor did they report the abuse to a higher authority. Where did these doctors' place their greatest loyalty? I doubt that they placed it in God.
I think of times when evil was known or at least suspected. Some people see evil and distance themselves from it. Clearly their loyalties are misplaced. Others put themselves in harm's way, willingly sacrifice everything, to show their love. As Jesus did.
Dear God, thank you for the many people who sacrifice themselves for love. They are the holy ones. May I learn to place your will always before my own. Love always, Pam