Today in the life of the church we celebrate the feast of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. I’ll let you all read about this remarkable “Pillar of the Church” who went from being a deacon to being an archbishop, who was at the Council of Nicea and ferociously fought against the Arians so much so that he garnered the nickname “Athanasius Contra Mundum” (Athanasius Against The World).
One of the lections assigned for Athanasius comes from 1 John (1 John 5:1-5). In the passage he talks about how loving God is as shown by following God’s commandments. And, I agree with that statement. The author goes on to make the following statement:
“And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.”
Here I have to say that at moments I find following the commands of God feel burdensome. Sometimes following the commands of God seems to be downright difficult; at moments even impossible. Somehow, I don’t feel that I’m alone in feeling this way.
Sure, I will give you that God’s commands are not complex in nature, or conceptually difficult to grasp. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s a pretty straightforward statement. But, at moments, man oh man, does that commandment feel like a burden or almost impossible to fully perform. When the person you love more than anyone else in the whole world is killed in a car accident is it really possible to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind?” (Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27)
That said, I’m not unhappy or even dismayed that God’s commandments could seem burdensome and difficult at times. In fact, there is a part of me that is glad that they are, “simple, not easy.” What would you think about God if God’s commandments were things like, “just tolerate everyone,” or, “try really hard not to kill too many people?” I think they would make God seem pretty wimpy. That’s not the God who sent God’s only son to live and suffer with God’s creation. That’s not the God who tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his only son, or the God who says, “Let there be light.”
Think about something you struggled to achieve, something you thought about all the time that demanded diligent and persistent work. Didn’t you feel such a sense of accomplishment when you were able to say, “I did it?” Think about the sheer joy, satisfaction, and sense of purpose you felt about your accomplishment.
Now let’s be clear, God’s commandments aren’t goals, they are commands. There is a definite element of either doing them or not. They aren’t the requests of God, but the commandments of God. Those commandments are ones that we, as Christians, have before us every day and we can choose to obey them, or not. At all times I believe that God expects us, out of our love for God, to live into the commandments that God sets forth.
As Christians, we have these commandments before us every day and we can choose to obey them, or not. We can choose to struggle to obey them, always…or not. But through the grace of God and through Jesus’s death and resurrection for us–for all human kind–God not only provides us with what we need to keep these commandments, but forgives us when we are not able to keep them.
Are the commandments of God burdensome at moments? Sure thing they are. Are they worth the struggle it sometimes takes to live into them, to obey them and to follow them. You bet they are. Always.
In Christ’s Name,