stop behaving, start living

I think I may have lost my faith in morality last night.

I was talking to an old friend about it, and I started to realize that for me, this faith is little more than a risk-management strategy.

Don't get me wrong: I want to be healthy, and systems of morality are intended, I believe, to help me live a healthy, whole life. Take, for example, the sexual mores of the Christian religion in which I, myself, have been raised and continue to live. A great many of these mores, if fully embraced and perfectly lived out, can protect from disease and heartache and will help to create healthy, loving, stable family environments in which to raise children. That, to me, seems a no-brainer. Do not go bed-hopping, and you will be far less likely to end up with strange, itchy spots in embarrassing places. Do not treat people like things, and your kids won't have to grow up bouncing between homes.

There are some problems, however, with moral systems.  The first is that people actually put their faith in them.

Moral systems are useful, but they are not worthy of our faith... especially not when faith in these systems leads us to assume that life can be mathematized: that if we can follow a moral system perfectly (and we can't), we are guaranteed that everything will work out well for us. This makes morality little more than a system for pain-avoidance. The simple problem with this is that it does not work.

On the contrary, pain is an inevitable result of being alive and, in a supremely ironic twist, the potential for pain actually increases in proportion to how well a person actually lives. Let me explain.

I believe that the best and perhaps only useful criteria for determining how well someone is living is by looking at how well they are loving the people, creatures and objects in the world around them. In an often cruel world full of insecurity, deprivation, and loss, to love greatly is always to risk great pain. People die. They leave. They make horrendously selfish, arrogant, fear-driven decisions that damage the people closest to them. And the more you open yourself to loving the people, creatures and objects in the world around you, the more you open yourself to being hurt by them. If you love them, you will suffer as they suffer and die. And everything suffers and dies. Everything. The consolation? Love.

To live well is to love deeply.
To love deeply is always to open yourself to suffering and pain.
Pain sucks.

But what is the alternative? To put your faith in a set of moral directives that you will not only fail to perfectly fulfill (you will), but that are also most likely incapable of handling the boundless complexity of what living entails?

I don't think so. I think the alternative is grace. I think we need to humbly accept that we cannot achieve the moral perfection required by moral systems. I think we need something bigger, and I think that something is Grace - amazing, divine Grace.

"Yeah, but, uh..." you may ask, "how is anybody supposed to know what it actually means to love without a moral system to guide them?"

A fair question, to be sure. I believe that the moral teaching found in religious systems like Christianity is extremely useful in growing the ability to discern which behaviors are more likely to lead to a diminishment of love. But the system itself is not the answer. A system is an inert tool, and there is not a moral system in existence that cannot be warped to justify greed, warmongering, destruction and hate. Observe, again, "Christianity."

We cannot put our faith in systems, because this sort of faith is a sure path to an increase in fear of pain. Since pain is Love's handmaiden, we cannot avoid it without also avoiding love. This is safer, perhaps, but it it is not really living.

I want to live.


  1. God intended to walk this with you. By ourselves nothing can be done.
    John 15:4 (New International Version, ©2011)

    4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

    Pain is always there, but isn't our Lord also suffered? We are not coming to avoid pain, we are showing God's grace and might through our pains.

    Lots of things don't go our ways, and yet is our way the best? If we put faith on any other thing but God, then it is meant to be fail.

  2. Beautifully thought and said.

    In my belief system, God=Love, and everything is an expression of God/Love. I imagine this to be similiar to a thick tangle of thread you find in your "junk drawer", but then I imagine the essence of these expressions to be very simple and pure.

    My father passed in November. I nursed him for two months and sat with him as he passed. The physical pain was excruciating for him and the emotional pain for me was no less excruciating.

    That experience was one of the most beautiful and divine I have ever experienced. The love was thick, simple, and pure. I carry that gift with me now. It has become part of me.

    I follow my heart, not a moral code.

  3. Thank you, Sarah. And thank you for sharing out of your own beautiful pain. I think that as we share our pain, the community of pain produces more love. It sure doesn't make sense to me, but I am grateful, at least, that there is that beauty woven into it.

  4. Loved this post. Well thought out. I often come back to the love/pain conundrum too.

  5. An excellent post, and something that many people do not realize when they seek to give themselves to Christ. That is, your faith does not eliminate the possibility for pain, after all we are called to "take up our cross and follow me", rather our faith opens us to the power of the Spirit to endure pain and suffering, as well as help others endure theirs through our love. Well written and sincerely expressed post.


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