The root of Christian living: Be who you are
The Morning Call, May 17, 2014
My son Matt makes me wonder what I'm missing by disinterest in science fiction and fantasy literature. I try occasionally to discover what that might be.
I stayed recently with a 2000 Robert Sawyer science fiction novel, Calculating God, because part of it surfaced my bias that theology, specifically moral theology in this instance, is more art than science. More intuitive than analytical and deductive.
So much of what is right and wrong is difficult to determine. That’s from the book, but it’s also the experience of many who try to live good lives and do good in the process.
In Calculating God, an extra-terrestrial, Hollus, who believes in God, told a Canadian paleontologist, Thomas Jericho, who does not, about the extra-terrestrial Wreeds whom math confounds just as "philosophical questions about the meaning of life, ethics and morality confound us.”
Though we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong, Hollus said, every theory of morality we come up with fails because we tend toward reducing morality to logic. Mathematical morality. The longer we live, experience suggests we can’t.
“We attempt to apply mathematics –– something we are good at –– to ethics, something we are not good at,” Hollus tells Jericho. Such attempts always fail us. Intuitive morality, the more complex the question, defies mathematical logic.
I have written sermons and columns for some 50 years. Lately, I’ve focused on those who take their doubts more seriously than themselves, who find comfort, not anxiety, in questions.
I was fortunate to have teachers in the ‘60s who had one foot in classical theology which tended to be analytical and another in intuitive creativity where God is still speaking.
A German Jesuit, Father Joseph Fuchs, who taught at the Gregorian University in Rome, informed my first experience of truly Christian moral theology.
I was expecting to study the law… God’s law, church law, case studies. Math become morality.
I was primed for answers.
During the first few weeks of class, however, Josef Fuchs read and commented on passages from St. Paul’s letters. Hello, I thought. Was this the moral theology class? There’s someone here reading from the bible.
So at odds with my expectations, Josef Fuchs gleaned from St. Paul’s writings those passages where he says we have been changed, transformed, reborn. In Christ.
He suggested again and again that in that change, in that transformation, in that rebirth — in Christ — we discover the defining moment for Christian living: that the answer to “What must I do?” is contained in the question, “Who am I?” and that the Christian moral imperative is rooted not in law but in Jesus Christ and in the person I have become in Christ.
Paul often follows “You are a new creation,” Josef Fuchs pointed out, with “Therefore, BE (who you are)!” This sequence, Fuchs said, was Paul’s moral theology.” You are a new creation in Christ. You are mystery. Let the mystery unfold. Let the secret be told. Be reconciled. Be glad. Be thankful. Be compassionate. Be who you are. Be that new creation in Christ.
That, he suggested, was the heart of Christian morality: Jesus Christ and the new creation we have become in Christ. Josef Fuchs called it the Pauline Indicative-Imperative: You are a new creation in Christ. Therefore, be…
Yes, I do miss something crucial by disinterest in science fiction and fantasy literature. I miss that God touches our hearts and imaginations as much if not more than God reaches us through cold and artless logic. I miss the unlimited artful scope of intuition.
[Canon Bill Lewellis, firstname.lastname@example.org, a retired Episcopal priest, served on the Bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the Bishop’s staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that.]