The Idols of Lost Compassion

Dear Commandment Keepers:

The study guide for the 2019-2020 Presbyterian Women (PW) will lead participants on an in-depth journey through the Ten Commandments. The guide, Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments, accomplishes this task in nine lessons by combining the first and second laws in the first study; subsequent lessons take them one at a time. As has become a tradition, Darlene Aniolowski, one of FPCLG's PW Moderators, invited me to provide an overview of the curriculum at the first Presbyterian Women’s gathering on September 5. I know I had best arrive prepared, so I’ve been thinking a great deal about ‘God’s Top Ten’.

Of course, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he stepped outside of the Decalogue (ten laws) and suggested the twin commandments to love God and neighbor. Regarding this, I stumbled on a review of Roman Catholic theologian Daniel Mahoney’s book The Idol of our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity, in which he argues we have eclipsed our love of God by an imbalanced love of neighbor, a love that is not contingent on our love of, or even belief in, God. While much of Mahoney’s work is a pointed attack on the perceived hyper-humanism of Pope Francis, his larger argument is a reminder that our capacity to love our neighbor only makes sense in the frame of our love for God. Our neighbor possesses lovability solely because s/he is created in God’s image, the image of The One above whom we are to place no other.

This helped me understand the PW’s guide combining commandments one and two. The command against graven images (commandment #2) flows from the exclusivity expressed in commandment #1. To have no other gods means to make no substitutionary representation of something other than God; images distract from the single-mindedness necessary to engage in focused moral behavior and humanitarian love. If we are driven by our undivided devotion to One God, then nothing will divide our love-loyalty when approaching others. While the world around us parses and praises difference, we, driven by our love of God, must proclaim an unwavering love for each and every neighbor.

The graven images that divide are more than little statues in pagan temples; they are the idols of flags, engraved constitutive documents, banners of nationalism, tributes to the social construction of race or caste, imposed boundaries of geographic borders—any identity imposed beyond the singularity of humanity’s absolute love-dependence on God’s image.

In this light the familiar account of the Good Samaritan takes on deeper meaning. The Priest and Levite, who pass by the one wounded on the road, do so because they bow in idolatrous loyalty to the created images of custom and law. The Samaritan lived neighbor-love by setting aside all conflicting allegiance and acting with compassion. Jesus’ instruction to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10.37) is a command to examine the idolatries in our lives that overshadow our capacity for compassion.

Whatever keeps us from neighbor-love is an idol that has supplanted our worship and deflected our capacity to keep the first commandment in both forms—thou shalt have no other gods before me / thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul and mind. It becomes imperative for me to examine all my allegiances to determine if any have become so great in my life that they impede my ability to follow Christ’s command for me to love my neighbor; any failure to love my neighbor is the result of placing another ‘god’ ahead of my One true God. No one said commandment-keeping was easy.

Preparing for the PW presentation, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor