St. Hilary, having defined the ungodly, sinners and the seat of pestilence now moves on to meditate upon the blessed:
But the fact that he has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of pestilence, does not constitute the perfection of the man’s happiness. For the belief that one God is the Creator of the world, the avoidance of sin by the pursuit of unassuming goodness, the preference of the tranquil leisure of private life to the grandeur of public position—all this may be found even in a pagan. But here the Prophet, in portraying in the likeness of God the man that is perfect—one who may serve as a noble example of eternal happiness—points to the exercise by him of no commonplace virtues, and to the words, But his will hath been in the Law of the Lord, for the attainment of perfect happiness. To refrain from what has gone before is useless unless his mind be set on what follows, But his will hath been in the Law of the Lord. The Prophet does not look for fear. The majority of men are kept within the bounds of Law by fear; the few are brought under the Law by will: for it is the mark of fear not to dare to omit what it is afraid of, but of perfect piety to be ready to obey commands. This is why that man is happy whose will, not whose fear, is in the Law of God.
Note that being an ethical person is not enough — Christianity is more than an ethical system. The blessed man meditates upon the Law and follows that Law, but not out of fear. It is necessary at this point to remember the purpose of the Law — revelation. Take a look at the Ten Commandments:
- You shall have no other gods before Me.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
- Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
Note that these are all about relationships. The first four are about how we should relate to God and the last six are about how we should relate to our fellow human beings. This reveals several things about God:
- He is a relational being.
- Since His commandments are relational with both God and humanity, He has relationships with both Himself and humanity.
- This suggests that He is a Trinity of persons.
- It also reveals a desire to have the second person of that Trinity become a human being. As St. John famously says, God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son (3:16).
In other words, obedience to God is not about fear, but about a relationship based on love. The ultimate goal of this love is a union between God and humanity where human beings fulfill their potential by becoming like God. No mere ethical system will ever accomplish that.