Have you ever wondered why creation happened in the first place? Or, like the old philosophical question, why is there anything instead of nothing? Many of the saints, mystics, and fathers and mothers of the church have said that God created because, frankly, God (who is love) needed something to love. To take that one step further, God created so that what God created could then love God back freely.
If you’re a parent, compare this with your relationship with your children. Probably your fondest desire, maybe at an unconscious level, when you first conceived or adopted a child was “I want to love this little one in every way I can!” Perhaps you thought, “I want to love this child so well that they will love me in the way that I have loved them.” Your love empowers them to love you back.
I think this is what God does in the act of creation. God creates an object of love that God can totally give Godself to that will eventually be capable of loving God back in the same way, in a free and unforced manner.
The Franciscan philosopher-theologian John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) taught that Christ was “the first idea in the mind of God” (or the “Alpha” point, Revelation 1:8 and elsewhere), not an after-the-fact attempt to solve the problem of sin. The Gospel, I believe, teaches that grace is inherent to the universe from the moment of the “Big Bang” (suggested in Genesis 1:2 by the Spirit hovering over chaos). This cosmic Christology implies that grace is not a later add-on-now-and-then-for-a-few, but the very shape of the universe from the start. The Christ Mystery (Inspirited Matter) is Plan A for God—and not a Plan B Mop-up exercise after “Adam and Eve ate the apple.”
We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made,” as Paul puts it (Ephesians 1:4). It was all “determined beforehand in Christ” (1:9). Human sin or human-made problems (13.8 billion years after the Big Bang!) could not be a sufficient motive for the Divine Incarnation, but only love itself, and even infinite love! The Christ Mystery was the blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1:1).
God’s first “idea” was to pour out divine infinite love into finite, visible forms. The Big Bang is our scientific name for that first idea, and “Christ” is our theological name. God never merely reacts but always supremely and freely acts . . . out of perfect and gratuitous love. Anything less is unworthy of God.
When we look at history, it’s clear that Christianity is an evolving faith. It only makes sense that early Christians would look for a logical and meaningful explanation for the “why” of the tragic death of their religion’s founder. For the early centuries, appeasing an angry, fanatical Father was not their answer. For the first thousand years, most Christians believed that the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross—the “price” or the ransom—was being paid not to God, but to the devil! This made the devil pretty powerful and God pretty weak, but it gave the people someone to blame for Jesus’ death. And at least it was not God.
Then, in the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109) wrote a paper called Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) which might just be the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written. Thinking he could solve the problem of sin inside of the medieval code of feudal honor and shame, Anselm said, in effect, “Yes, a price did need to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father—by one who was equally divine.” I imagine Anselm didn’t consider the disastrous implications of his theory, especially for people who were already afraid or resentful of God.
In authoritarian and patriarchal cultures, most people were fully programmed to think this way—working to appease an authority figure who was angry, punitive, and even violent in “his” reactions. Many still operate this way, especially if they had an angry, demanding, or abusive parent. People respond to this kind of God, as sick as it is, because it fits their own story line.
Unfortunately, for a simple but devastating reason, this understanding also nullifies any in-depth spiritual journey: Why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God?
Over the next few centuries, Anselm’s honor- and shame-based way of thinking came to be accepted among Christians, though it met resistance from some, particularly my own Franciscan school under Bonaventure (1221–1274) and Duns Scotus (1266–1308). Protestants accepted the mainline Catholic position, embracing it with even more fervor. Evangelicals later enshrined it as one of the “four pillars” of foundational Christian belief, which the earlier period would have thought strange. Most of us were never told of the varied history of this theory, even among Protestants. If you came from a “law and order” culture or a buying and selling culture—which most of us have—it made perfect sense. The revolutionary character of Jesus and the final and full Gospel message has still to dawn upon most of the world. It is just too upending for most peoples’ minds until they have personally undergone the radical experience of unearned love. And, even then, it takes a lifetime to sink in.
When the Christian tradition chose an imperial Christ, living inside the world of static and mythic proclamations, it framed belief and understanding in a very small box. The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth—to the real, historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul. Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.
Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.
Mere information is rarely helpful unless it also enlightens and transforms your life. In Franciscan theology, truth is always for the sake of love—not an absolute end in itself, which too often becomes the worship of an ideology. In other words, any good idea that does not engage the body, the heart, the physical world, and the people around us will tend to be more theological problem solving and theory than any real healing of people and institutions. Ironically, healing is what Jesus was all about!
The word “healing” did not return to mainline Christian vocabulary until the 1970’s, and even then it was widely resisted, which I know from my own experience.  In the Catholic tradition, we had pushed healing off to the very last hour of life and called the sacrament “Extreme Unction,” apparently unaware that Jesus provided free health care in the middle of life for people who were suffering, and it was not just an “extreme” measure to get them into the next world.
You wouldn’t guess this from the official creeds but, after all is said and done, doing is more important than believing. Jesus was clearly more concerned with what Buddhists call “right action” (“orthopraxy” in Christianity) than with right saying or right thinking. You can hear this message very clearly in his parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31: One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but then does, while the other says he will go, but in fact doesn’t. Jesus told his listeners that he preferred the one who actually goes, although saying the wrong words, over the one who says the right words but does not act. How did we miss that?
Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human.
9 Attributes of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit
The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is a biblical term that sums up nine attributes of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit, according to chapter 5 of the Epistle to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is:
- Love (Greek: agape, Latin: caritas)
- Joy (Greek: chara, Latin: gaudium)
- Peace (Greek: eirene, Latin: pax)
- Patience (Greek: makrothumia, Latin: longanimitas)
- Kindness (Greek: chrestotes, Latin: benignitas)
- Goodness (Greek: agathosune, Latin: bonitas)
- Faithfulness (Greek: pistis, Latin: fides)
- Gentleness (Greek: prautes, Latin: modestia)
- Self-control (Greek: egkrateia, Latin: continentia)
Love (Agape) #
- Agape (love) denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good for others, no matter their behavior
- It is a love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object.
- Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world.
- Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
- The joy referred to here is deeper than mere happiness, is rooted in God and comes from Him. Since it comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly happiness, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time.
- The word “peace” comes from the Greek word eirene, the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word shalom, which expresses the idea of wholeness, completeness, or tranquility in the soul that is unaffected by the outward circumstances or pressures. The word eirene strongly suggests the rule of order in place of chaos.
- .. of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is
- Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace, who brings peace to the hearts of those who desire it.
- He says in John 14:27:
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”. In Matthew 5:9 he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
- Generally the Greek world applied this word to a man who could avenge himself but did not.
- This word is often used in the Greek Scriptures in reference to God and God’s attitude to humans.
Exodus 34:6 describes the Lord as “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
- Patience, which in some translations is “longsuffering” or “endurance”, is defined in Strong’s by two Greek words, makrothumia and hupomone.
- Also included in makrothumia is the ability to endure persecution and ill-treatment.
- It describes a person who has the power to exercise revenge but instead exercises restraint.
- It describes the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances,
not with a passive complacency, but with a hopeful fortitude that actively resists weariness and defeat, (Strong’s #5281) with hupomone (Greek ὑπομονή) being further understood as that which would be “as opposed to cowardice or despondency”
- Kindness is acting for the good of people regardless of what they do, properly, “useable, i.e. well-fit for use
- Kindness is goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability. The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience. The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities from the character of one under His control. (emphasis added)
- The word kindness comes from the Greek word chrestotes (khray-stot-ace), which meant to show kindness or to be friendly to others and often depicted rulers, governors, or people who were kind, mild, and benevolent to their subjects. Anyone who demonstrated this quality of chrestotes was considered to be compassionate, considerate, sympathetic, humane, kind, or gentle. The apostle Paul uses this word to depict God’s incomprehensible kindness for people who are unsaved (see Romans 11:22; Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4).
- One scholar has noted that when the word chrestotes is applied to interpersonal relationships, it conveys the idea of being adaptable to others. Rather than harshly require everyone else to adapt to his own needs and desires, when chrestotes is working in a believer, he seeks to become adaptable to the needs of those who are around him.
- Kindness is doing something and not expecting anything in return. Kindness is respect and helping others without waiting for someone to help one back. It implies kindness no matter what. We should live “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left”.
- The state or quality of being good
- Moral excellence; virtue;
- Kindly feeling, kindness, generosity, joy in being good
- The best part of anything; Essence; Strength;
- General character recognized in quality or conduct.
- The root of pistis (“faith”) is peithô, that is to persuade or be persuaded, which supplies the core-meaning of faith as being “divine persuasion”, received from God, and never generated by man.
- It is defined as the following:
- objectively, trustworthy;
- subjectively, trustful:—believe(-ing, -r), faithful(-ly), sure, true.
- Gentleness, in the Greek, prautes, commonly known as meekness, is “a divinely-balanced virtue that can only operate through faith
- “a disposition that is even-tempered, tranquil, balanced in spirit, unpretentious, and that has the passions under control.
- The word is best translated ‘meekness,’ not as an indication of weakness, but of power and strength under control.
- The person who possesses this quality pardons injuries, corrects faults, and rules his own spirit well“.
- Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”.[Gal 6:1]
- “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”.[Eph 4:2]
- The Greek word used in Galatians 5:23 is “egkrateia”, meaning “strong, having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions.“
- We read also: “…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love”.[2 Pet 1:5-7]
Memorize All 9 with a Song:
Here’s a song that will help you memorize the fruits of the spirit: