Monday, 14 March 2011

Be holy. Why?

I have very much enjoyed the series 'All About the Bible' that has been running here in Coulsdon since January as part of the Churches Together in Coulsdon's way of marking the Year of the Bible. Last week was particularly helpful as Bishop David Atkinson gave us a 'quick coach tour' (as my History of Religious Thought lecturer used to say) of Christian ethics. What stuck in my mind was the way Bishop David gave a biblical rationale for ethics: not a legalistic Kantian approach of obeying laws, or a Millsian relativism of doing what is best for the greatest number, but an ethic based on the reflection of God's character: "Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy."

This means that ethical choices, if they are 'biblical', will be made in the light of what reflects God's character. That doesn't necessarily make those choices choices easy as most situations are quite complicated, but it does give a way to start. From what we know of the character of God, as revealed in the bible, we can begin to shape an ethic that includes ourselves individually and as a society.

Today's postmodern society allows for so much indivual choice when it comes to ethics that we, as Christians, should be allowed as much 'air-time' to put a biblical approach to ethics as anyone else. Today, it seems to me, we will win respect not by simply arguing or seeing ourselves in a battle, though sometimes it seems like a battle, but perhaps by presenting an ethic that is as attractive as the character of God. That means we need to know enough about God's character to BE attractive, and not just pick and choose the bits of God's character that our own prejudices feel comfortable with. So justice AND mercy, grace AND truth, power AND self-giving, creativity AND purity, and so on.

As it happens, one of the lectionary readings for today is from Leviticus 19, which has the verse, "Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy." I am taking that verse with me today and will see what happens.

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