Thursday, October 20, 2016

Even of the Sabbath

Thinking about a close friend of mine, a fallen-away Episcopalian and somewhat impoverished member of a local ‘old money’ family, whose libertine lifestyle was, at least in middle age, rather more philosophical than physical, his attitude toward sexual morality was that, except for a very restricted class of offenses, there really wasn’t any—sexual morality, that is.

In our youth, he would have hidden his real lifestyle from me (perhaps), because our friendship was still in its early stages, still very much on the surface. From his viewpoint, I was a somewhat fawning young Episcopalian, with new convert zeal (I had only joined the Church a few years prior), and he would probably not have wanted to offend my (as he thought) pious sensibilities.

By early middle age we had gotten to know and love each other quite well. At that point, we were co-workers talking amateur ethics and theology, as well as aesthetics, history, science, and politics in our off hours. Our shared Anglican past (by then I had joined the Orthodox Church) gave us many common points of interest and, though temperamentally different, much sympathy for each other.

I didn’t quite believe him when he told me that he’d been with a few hundred women in his time. I mean, unless it were assembly-line whore-mongering (which would’ve been beneath his sensitive nature), it was an impossibility, and he never confessed to living in a large free-love commune. What I did see was the tail end of one disappointing relationship and the start of another.

Does it seem that I meant ‘and the start of another’ disappointing relationship? Well, that’s not what I meant, but in fact that is how it turned out. The second relationship of his which I did see was with a woman he’d known most of his life, and whom he had rescued from a very harsh and abusive relationship with another mutual friend. I think it might’ve been a marriage.

If it were a marriage, then, because of their circle of like-minded lapsed Catholic and Episcopal intellectuals, it would’ve been a marriage just to satisfy some other motive, because the woman and her husband had never had an intention to start a family. They were socialites and left-wing party hoppers. Alcoholism and drug abuse incinerated their ‘marriage.’ My friend came to the rescue.

They didn’t immediately get married after her divorce, my friend and this woman, but just set up house together. They became ‘a couple.’ It didn’t bother them that they weren’t married. Their sex life was no one’s business but their own. Both had flawed personalities, even what could be termed personality disorders, mental and emotional dispositions that made their lives actually very unhappy.

Neither had ever been involved in a real marriage themselves and so had no experience of what it takes. Each of them had always used niceness to get through all of life’s roadblocks on the way to their own personal happiness—as individuals. When they spoke of each other’s happiness and how much they wanted it, what they meant was, happiness on their terms, not on the other’s.

My object is not to single out unmarried sex, or childless marriages, both of which I do believe are moral issues, nor to point out the sinfulness of one or both, but simply to give an example of ‘life beyond the (possibility of) moral laws.’ I do believe that the moral laws are Divine in origin, but only those we call the Ten Commandments. All others, even in the Bible, are adaptations, some good, some bad.

These friends—now both my friends, as they are a couple, and I believe they did get married (though I accidentally missed the wedding)—would not admit to living beyond the moral laws, only that they follow a different standard of morality. To be sure, by Christ’s standard in His sermon on the Day of Judgment, they would probably be among the sheep who enter paradise on His right.

‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Me,’ is the line that sticks with me, and I know of at least one instance where this couple would be directed to the right. A mutual friend of ours, a young lawyer from another ‘old money’ family, married and started to live the lifestyle of his class. One day he was diagnosed with a disease that would eventually incapacitate him.

His wife stayed with him as long as it did not inconvenience her personal and social life, but when it did, she promptly abandoned him to his fate. My two friends, by then living together (in sin, from the Christian viewpoint) began to tend him in his apartment, so he would not have to be transferred to a nursing home. At the end, it amounted to them doing home hospice care—for free.

This lawyer was someone they’d known almost all their lives. He had been abandoned by his wife. What else could they do? This demonstrates something more than loyalty, perhaps touching on that real moral standard, maybe even going beyond it. In the end, of course, the lawyer died. My friend and his girlfriend got married sometime after. Why? He was heading towards early dementia.

Unless his girlfriend and he were married, she could not properly care for him and, when his dementia possibly slid into Alzheimer’s, she could still be there to care for him. Again, is this natural loyalty, adherence to the moral law, or what? The bottom line here is that, knowingly or unknowingly, these people were following the word of Jesus, ‘How blessed are the merciful…’

I am thinking about laws, about the moral law, the standard that God has created along with creating us, for whom it was made. As long as we are in rebellion against that law, we cannot take our preordained place as ‘lords of the Sabbath,’ as Jesus Christ Himself did. Only by fulfilling the law, letting it teach and regulate us as a society of persons, do we become masters of ourselves, and lords over it.

Then the words of Jesus, spoken in prophecy about Himself first and then about us, be fulfilled, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27-28 ESV).

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