For example, a few years ago I attended a workshop for Anglicans. At one point in our conversation we were sharing our images of God: how we understand who God is and what he is like. As people chimed in I was struck by one thing in particular: a lack of appeal to Scripture. People were happy to suggest that we can come to know God as we embrace our grandchildren or take a walk by the lake. No one seemed to think, however, that it was important to begin with the Bible—God’s own self-revelation—if we’re going to talk about God.
We hear Saint John say something like, “God is love,” and we assume that God’s love is like whatever our experience of love is. Or, worse yet, we might believe that whatever our experience of love is, is God. That is what I mean by sentimentality — when it comes to a truthful knowledge of God, things like Scripture, reason, and tradition take a back seat to my own feelings and experience.
Stanley Hauerwas, never one for mincing words, once said that the greatest enemy of the Christian religion is not atheism but sentimentality: “You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.” Part of his, no doubt overstated, point here is that bad liturgy leads to bad ethics. Liturgy matters. The hymns we sing, the prayers we pray, the sermons we preach, the language we use, the reverence with which we come to Holy Communion, it all matters. You wouldn’t want to end up murdering your best friend, would you?
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” As I said, we hear a passage like this from Saint John and we are prone to both sentimentality and moralism. Sentimentality because we think we know what love is from our own experience and moralism because we think loving one another comes naturally to us and that we’re already off to a good start.
Both of these ditches lead to our peril. But Saint John makes a way through for us and that way is the Cross of Jesus Christ.
“If we want to understand what Christian love is, we must begin not by talking about ourselves but by talking about the God who loves and whose love looks like Jesus Christ and him crucified for the remission of our sins.”https://t.co/MmRffwN5wk
— Fr Jonathan R Turtle ☩ (@turtology) October 10, 2019