The Bible and Morality: a Story of Love and Mercy
The Bible contains a story, a love story, the story of man’s relationship with God. This story includes the story of sin—of man’s rejection of God’s love—destroying our relationship with God, enslaving is to selfishness and pride, damaging God’s gift—nature—and our relationship with others.
But the Bible also contains the story of God’s Word—God’s Word of Truth—who takes on our flesh in order to set us free from the slavery of sin. It is thus the story of God’s mercy, which restores man’s ability to love, to truly love both God and other men again.
God’s Merciful Response to Man’s Rejection
The Bible can be a source of moral reflection if we recognize it as a love story. This story begins with creation of Adam and Eve, and with God’s invitation to join him freely in a covenant of love; Adam and Eve rejected that covenant, preferring to seek happiness independent of God. In effect, all sin—all moral evil—repeats this seeking happiness independent of God and of his love.
The Bible continues with the story of God’s response of mercy to man’s rejection, promising Adam and Eve a redeemer—of Eve’s seed—who would conquer the deceiver who led them into sin. The Bible tells us of God’s covenant with Noah, then with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and finally with Moses, where God gave us the Ten Commandments.
These Commandments are a father’s instruction to his children, teaching us about the demands of love. It teaches us to put our Love—God—first, having no other loves before him; to respect the person we love in word and the weekly anniversary of our covenant of love; to honor those who represent our Love, to remain faithful, to respect the life that flows from that Love, and to treat Love’s gifts and expressions in ways that always reflect that faithfulness. Such are God’s paternal admonitions to us.
Yet it is easy to treat those loving instructions as requirements to keep our Father God off our backs—to avoid his wrath and any nagging threats of punishment. Such childish (minimalist) behavior reduces morality to fulfilling the commandments so as to avoid (eternal) punishments.
But Jesus tries to raise our eyes higher, to get us to go beyond doing the minimum. That is why he gave us the Beatitudes: blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit… the pure of heart… the merciful… If our actions arise from love and reflect love, it will make us truly happy and lead to seeing God in the eternal life of heaven. Beatitudes challenge us to give ourselves truly beyond the minimum.
The Beatitudes do not wipe out the Commandments, but help us to fulfill them, as our Lord says—after giving us the Beatitudes:
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them… Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17,19).
Ultimately, all our moral actions boil down to love, which fulfills all the Commandments:
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40).
So, this love story doesn’t stop with the death of the last apostle, but must continue with each one of us: our response to God’s invitation to love is essential; to love him with all our heart and our neighbor out of love for him. This is what the Bible teaches us about morality.
Fr. John R. Waiss
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