Conclusion: The End of Obeying

Number 2.1       
July 2009      


Conclusion: The End of Obeying

By Franklin D. Tennyson

The human conception of obedience began at the moment right before the woman, urged by Satan, eats from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. At that moment, the woman becomes Eve and mankind becomes aware of consequence, the idea that, although he has agency, he is not free to act without consequence. This issue is discussed in full by the four authors in this journal; even so, there is an essential detail that escapes notice: it is the idea that human beings are born with the inclination to obey — that obedience, like original sin in the post-lapsarian man, is instilled in all human beings at birth. If this is indeed true, then how does that shape our conception of man's relationship with God? If we frame the various arguments of the authors in this context, perhaps we will better understand (as Lance and Jason illustrate in their papers) man's obedience to God as being a catalyst for his growth, learning, and appreciation throughout life.

 Let us first consider the biblical basis for man's innate predisposition to obey, however, which is found in the first chapter of Genesis. There, man is made in the image of God, and having been made in that image, one can intuit that man receives some of God's qualities. This is often interpreted to mean that man receives the predisposition to love and to create, but it can also mean that, from the nature of God himself, man receives the predisposition to obey. But where exactly is this found in Genesis? When enumerating his edicts for creation, God begins each statement with the jussive "let" — "Let there be light...let the waters bring forth, etc." The jussive is used in such a way that God's command applies directly to the subjects (light, water, etc.). Therefore when these things come to be — when light is existent and the waters bring forth — they are, in a very literal sense, obeying God. Having established that, we can turn to man's creation and the endowment of the divine image.

When God creates man in his image, he begins the sequence as he does the others: using the jussive to signify a command. However, this time he is not commanding objects but is rather commanding himself. We know this because Genesis 1:26 begins quite simply with, "Let us." Here God does not disassociate himself from that which is being commanded. Therefore, when Genesis 1:27 informs us that "God created humankind in his image," it can be understood that, after issuing the command, God is accordingly obeying himself. And having made man in his image and imbuing him with numerous divine qualities, God is also giving of himself and to man the predisposition and inclination to obey. However, as we have seen thus far in the journal, mankind is not always inclined to obey, and that is where the breach between the human and the divine exists and what the adherence to God's law seeks to mend.

Mary Agnes brings up an interesting point in her paper. In discussing Deuteronomy 10:12, she makes a binary distinction regarding human existence. She asserts that the verse's reference to "heart love" and "soul love" signifies two separate parts existent within each person. The heart, she says, represents the physical self ("the aspect that keeps [man] alive") and the soul represents the spiritual self ("the aspect that lives for eternity"). In making this discovery, Mary Agnes uncovers a breach that exists in man's duality — that between the physical self and the spiritual self, a breach thought not to have existed in the pre-lapsarian man, a breach that stands as a consequence of man's disobedience. She then goes on to say that Deuteronomy 10:12 requires one to love God with both parts. From this it seems as though fear, love and obedience (all intrinsically connected in Deuteronomy 10:12) to God are what is necessary to bring these two selves together. These selves are unified by their activity — by fearing, by loving, and by obeying. However, if one can understand this as occurring when man obeys God (and by obeying he loves and he fears) then what happens when man disobeys?

This journal discusses what happens upon man's first disobedience: the breach occurs, separating man from God and dividing man's self into two separate entities. However, considering Leah's argument, the implications of the divine image complicate the idea of consequence. She says that because he is made in the divine image, man is predisposed to disobey. She makes her point by addressing the idea that, because God does not grant man immortality and because He makes man in his image, He disobeys Himself by not completely endowing man with His qualities, primarily that of immortality.  I have to disagree with Leah on this point. While it is interesting to consider that man receives his disobedience from God, the reasoning behind that idea misses a few essential points. Perhaps we can take Mary Agnes' discussion of man's duality into account if we are to accurately conceptualize man's immortality. Man consists of both a body and a soul and is thereby linked to two modes of existence: earthly existence and a spiritual existence. And if the divine image imbues us with qualities, we must understand these qualities as existing within the self rather than the outside self, the body. Love, obedience, and compassion dwell within the soul and merely use the body as an apparatus for agency. A person's body (all arguments about predestination and ordination aside) is "randomly" produced by a biological process, yielding unto the inhabitant soul a spatial and temporal existence. The soul, however, comes directly from God, and is therefore the part of us which belongs wholly to Him, just as Mary Agnes discusses.  Just as the qualities one inherits from his parents are expressed in one's body, so are the qualities that one inherits from God expressed in one's soul, which is immortal. Therefore, the idea that one's disobedience comes from God cannot stand on the belief that God disobeys Himself by not granting immortality, for the part of a person that comes directly from Him lives eternally. This is why the punishment of the soul, upon disobedience, is far more severe than the punishment of the body.

When God condemns Adam and Eve to death, He takes away the immortality of their bodies, limiting their time in a world in which they are vulnerable to disobedience. At that moment, mankind's purpose in life shifted. Aware of the imminence of his bodily death, man seeks to mend the breach between himself and God to be spared a "second death," which in the Christian tradition is hell. Through his obedience, man thinks that he can reclaim God's favor and be deemed worthy enough to receive everlasting life. Mary Agnes believes that, according to the apostle Matthew, man should obey God because God has the power to destroy the body and the soul. Like Jason, she believes that man, as a rational creature, should reason that it is to his disadvantage not to obey.  However, God does not merely demand man's obedience to protect him from wrath and punishment. He also demands obedience to protect man from the world.

Lance discusses this idea in his paper using the parent-child metaphor. He claims that the commandments teach one how to live in this world, that they help temper the passions of the body and the obligations of the soul. God, he says, functions like a parent, giving His children a guideline by which to direct their lives. If we consider the fact that God in all His infinite wisdom makes the law to act as a type of protective guide for life then perhaps when one disobeys, "punishment" is a natural consequence rather than the result of a reactionary God. Perhaps when one disobeys, one interferes with the temperance and balance between body and soul, and perhaps punishment acts as a type of compensatory corrective agent, achieving balance again through punitive measures.

Jason brings up the idea of the "good creator," a God who still provides for His creations despite their transgressions. He points to God's clothing Adam and Eve after the lapse as being evidence of such. And in reading the scriptures, one can see that God does not only provide for man's material needs but also for his spiritual needs. Through the law, he gives man the tools by which he can elevate himself to God's favor. Like Lance says, it seems as though God, like a benevolent parent, has the best interest of His creations in mind. God, like man, is also occupied with the task of mending the breach between Him and creation. He gives man the law, and through the law, He reveals Himself, His intentions, and His desire to perfect man once again. However, He also gives man the freedom to choose obedience over disobedience. This freedom is necessary in understanding the value of obedience. Jason and Lance both agree that man better understands the value of obedience when he has been punished for his failure to comply with God's law. If man is free to choose as he wishes then he is fully responsible for his actions. In assuming responsibility for his actions, man holds himself (and only himself) accountable, thereby enjoying completely the contentment and happiness yielding from a rewarded obedience or experiencing completely the possible lesson learned from a reprimanded disobedience. By having the freedom to choose, man also has the freedom to grow.

Lance illustrates this point with his parent-child metaphor. He says that the parent must first teach his child about the world through a set of rules, such as preventing a child from touching fire or playing in traffic because these things are inherently harmful to the child. In the same way, God gives one a code of laws to follow so that one may learn about the world through what is restricted and what is encouraged. After one learns the laws and, through trial and error, adheres to them, one, like a child, internalizes his knowledge of the world and acts more freely. Actions have more meaning when one is aware of their implications. And, like a child who matures into adulthood, one comes to understand more and more why it was necessary for us to obey. One no longer views God solely as an arbiter of justice but rather as a compassionate deity who encourages obedience in order to restore one's original perfection.

If we spend our lives striving for this perfection, mending the breach between us and God and reconciling the separation between our physical and spiritual selves, then I believe that we will have acted in harmony with God's will. For God does not banish Adam and Eve from the garden so that they would die; he sentences them so that they will live and obey, with the hope that, through their obedience, they come to understand everything they have to gain and strive in all ways to achieve it.