Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Golden Rule: A few thoughts

The Christian Golden Rule is usually quoted as found in the Biblical book of Matthew (chapter 7 verse 12).  Most Americans seem to memorize it from either the King James Version (KJV) or the New International Version (NIV).

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (KJV)

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (NIV)

Another iteration is Luke 6:31.

Does this assume everyone wants to be treated the same way?  Or does it assume that I treat everyone exactly the same?

Does this mean that I treat others as they wish to be treated?  Does a health care provider treat others as they want to be treated?  There are many clients who leave against medical advise because they do not want to be treated a certain way.  Does a parent give everything the demanding child wants?  The Biblical account suggests that God is generous and gives good gifts but not always what is asked for by his misbehaving children. 

I may not actually treat others as they want to be treated.  I may fail in small / invisible ways or it may be spectacularly public.  I think the real challenge is to continue growing in our understanding and practice of love.

What caught my attention recently is "for this is the law and the prophets."  There was an understanding of "an eye for an eye".  It was part of the Law (see Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-21; and Deuteronomy 19:20-21).  So one can hardly find fault with any Jew who fully practiced their faith.  My understanding is that the Jewish Law of "an eye for an eye" was intended to limit retribution.  But it seems in the modern world many Christians are not satisfied until no less than "an eye for an eye" as been met.

Does the Golden Rule mean that I, as a Christian, should treat others as they have treated me (the yang, to the Golden Rule's ying) as some sort of Karmic payback of my own doing? Is this what the radical Jesus taught?   If a Christian does this they have missed these verses: Luke 6:27, 28; Romans 12:14; and 1 Corinthians 4:12.

Turning the other cheek isn't intend to show weakness (or even meekness in my opinion) but strength of character and becomes the revelation of a noble calling.

But I am getting distracted.  "for this is the law and the prophets."  Jesus, the radical, when asked what the greatest commandment was said "love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.  AND the second is like it love your fellow human beings as you love yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets" (see Matthew 22:34-40; and Mark 12:28-34).  Jesus told his disciples in the upper room not long before he was taken to be crucified "Love one another.  Everyone will know you are my follower when you love one another." (See John 13:34).

Paul, a very well educated Pharisee, guardian of the Law, and follower of Jesus, understood Jesus to mean that all the law and the prophets could be summed up in "Love". (see Romans 13:8-9; and have a study of his letter to the Galatians).  [NOTE: I believe Paul valued the rich history of his people, he valued the law and the prophets.  He never, ever dismissed the Jewish faith - because he understood that the Law and Prophets were all about the revelation of God's love for humanity and really the universe for that matter.]  

What kind of love?  Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians gives us a description that love is not the same as wisdom, knowledge, or even martyrdom.  Rather it is patient, kind, respectful, full of honor, and so on, (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-8) and in his letter to the Galatians (Biblical reference Galatians 5:22-26) he surfaces that those who are aligned with Jesus are filled with the same Spirit: "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

Another disciple/apostle, John wrote in one letter "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8).  

So the Golden Rule is a calling; an ideal; a promise of character development.  The Golden Rule is all about respect, compassion, empathy, kindness, self-control, etc.  It calls me to consider multiple perspectives (that is to say I consider the impact of my actions on myself and others).  It is in this way that I do consider the way others want to be treated.   But I am not restricted or limited.  The Golden Rule causes me to contemplate my actions as if I were on the other end of the "equation" and in a full context.  The Golden Rule is an ethic.

In the sense that I treat everyone with "the fruit of the Spirit" I find that I can indeed treat all in the same way, even if the actions look different when interacting with different people.  When in the "fruit of the Spirit" I end up treating most people how they want to be treated, even if the action is not fully satisfying to self or others.  The Golden Rule may look different in different cultures.  But where cultures clash people practicing the Golden Rule seek to understand.  

What does the Golden Rule look like in your world?  What do we do to one another, in the name of love, that may not be "the fruit of the Spirit?"  What does it look like in personal relationships?  Work relationships? Vendor/Client relationships?  Is it different if I have no power and authority versus times when I have power an authority?


Finally, is this type of love limited to Christians?  My own study tells me "no".  But that will be an exploration for another day.