St. Augustine of Hippo is regarded as one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. In a statement that to my way of thinking summarizes his understanding of how Christians are to live out their faith, he says, “Love God and do as you please.”
At first glance, his words appear disturbing and irresponsible. It is as if he is suggesting that anything goes; that everything is permissible; that we have neither limits nor boundaries; and that we are free to do whatever we believe we are big and bad enough to do. And that is a terribly frightening prospect. But when we take a deeper look at his words, they reveal that what St. Augustine is saying is a far cry from the kind of absolute freedom that has neither limits nor boundaries. Quite the contrary, freedom is having the right and the ability to choose the limits and the boundaries by which we shall live.
In the case of those of us who are a part of the community of faith that was called “the people of the way” in the first century, St. Augustine is affirming that we chose to live out our faith based on the limits and boundaries determined by our love of and for God. That means that because of our love for God, there are things that we should do and things that we should not do. Because we love God, we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves; because we love God we should not hate our enemies; because we love God, we should be just in our dealings with all humanity; because we love God, we should not allow any injustice to stand; because we love God, we should forgive any offense committed against us; because we love God, we should not hold any grudge or seek revenge against anyone who has offended us.
While the examples listed are relatively clear, the matter is not that easily resolved. The issue becomes how we work out that love of God in the midst of the controversial issues that face us in our society. Is capital punishment a reflection of our love for God? How best do we express our love for God when it comes to the questions of abortion and homosexuality? Is there such a reality as a just war that can be based on our love for God? Given our highly advanced, technological society and our ability to do things that our parents never dreamed of, does our love of God compel us to raise the question should we do what we have the knowledge to do simply because we have the ability to do it?
When the question of the greatest commandment was raised with Jesus, without so much as a moment’s hesitation, he responded by answering, “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” I think that maybe St. Augustine was simply saying what Jesus had already said in a different way. I believe our greatest challenge as Christians is to make every possible effort, deliberately and intentionally, to deepen and grow our love for God and allow that love to determine the limits and boundaries by which we live.