B: So let me sum up some of the things I’ve been saying with respect to this moral code:
- As we don’t know all eternal truth, our pursuit of happiness is as if we’re groping about blindly in the dark.
- But God knows Eternal Truth, and – as though He’s been around the block a few times – is able to warn us about the things that keep us from His happiness and the things that point us in the right direction thereto.
- So He gives us “commandments,” which are a kind of moral code. (In tandem with the previous point, this portrays the moral code as a kind of map to happiness.)
- It turns out that even though breaking that code may seem appealing at times (and everybody breaks it from time to time; some more than others), doing so actually leads away from happiness. If any part of the moral code was otherwise, God wouldn’t command us to hold to it.
What, do you suppose that God requires us to struggle through various arbitrary monumental tasks that He Himself wouldn’t ever do, simply for His own comic relief and viewing pleasure? Of course not. How could such a Being be called loving? He tells us to do these things because those are the things He does Himself, and, knowing Eternal Truth, knows that we’ll experience His happiness in so doing. Apparently, His commandments, in conjunction with Eternal Truth, are the only way to His happiness: if any of His commandments were unnecessary for His happiness, He wouldn’t have bothered to command it – why would He, when He is perfectly conscious and respectful of our agency?
A (sarcastically, rolling his eyes in impatience): One would like to not be kept in the dark about what all these great commandments are…
B: Well the reality is that the list of ‘em is pretty much endless, but fortunately they can all be summed up into two “great” commandments.
A (gesturing with his hand, trying to hurry B along): …and they are?
B: Commandment #1. Commandment number one! COMMANDMENT!…NUMBER!…ONE! Love God. Commandment #2. Commandment number two! COMMANDMENT!…NUMBER!…TWO! Love others.
(moment of anticipatory silence)
A: That’s it?
A: That’s it.
B (hick accent): …Shore is!
A: …a bit disappointing…er…anticlimactic, perhaps. Why’d you say there was a big ol’ long list of ‘em?
B: I meant that the long list of specifics can be summarized in those two great commandments. Meaning, that the motivation for each entry in the long list really is in trying to accomplish the two big ’uns. Why should we go to church? Because we love God. Why not kill other people? Because we love others. Why be honest? Because we love God and others. And so on, all the way down the list.
A: Well, what are all these other commandments, anyway?!
B: There are probably as many different lists of commandments as there are people. I just gave you a couple of examples, but it’s not my intention to get into all the nitty-gritty details of which ones are the true commandments of God and which are not. Really, I think most people agree on the most important stuff anyway. People generally know that it’s not good, or at least that it doesn’t seem quite right, to do nasty things to others, or to overindulge in certain (or perhaps all) pleasures. They know we should remember to support good causes and to help others who are less fortunate. And all these things, once again, can be swallowed up in those two general commandments.
If you ever hear somebody condoning the opposite of these publicly-understood morals, you know they’re just trying to rationalize whatever personal desires they may have, in an effort to clear their own conscience about doing something they know they shouldn’t. Also, there may be some disagreement about the finer details of what God wants us to do. But in the end, despite all the confusion beget by rationalizing and disagreement, people keep coming back to the very basic tenets of loving God and others. Why? I suppose it’s because there’s a sense of “peace” in holding to them. It just feels “right,” at least to most people, I believe. It helps people see some sense of purpose in their lives.
So when I talk about “God’s commandments,” remember that each and every one of them is governed by one or both of these two big ones, and that I’m referring to the basic commandments that everybody knows by their own consciences.
A: So what happens if I don’t keep these commandments?
B: Well, you won’t be as happy as you otherwise would have been. Remember, happiness was the objective God had in mind for us when He gave us these commandments.
A: Won’t God punish me?
B: In a sense, you’ve punished yourself already by not being as happy as you could be. Also, you won’t feel God’s presence (His “Spirit”), and if you’ve spent a lifetime denying yourself the opportunity to feel His presence, what makes you think you’d want to go to heaven – i.e., be in His presence – in the next life?
A: So if I mess up once, that’s it? No chance for me afterwards?
B: There’s been a lot of erroneous thinking along those lines, and I can’t see why anybody ever thought that was true. I don’t even know of any line of holy writ that would indicate that such would be the case. If it was, then God might as well be declaring His desire to live alone for eternity, since none of us could ever keep the perfect standard that He set. On the contrary; He’s allowed for us to come back, by that process I mentioned last time called “repentance.”