“Do Good and Lend”

“Do Good and Lend” September 8, 2003

“Do good and lend, without hoping for anything in return.” That is the heart of Christian ethics, according to some, and the kind of gift that Derrida considers impossible. But is this sentence, by itself, the heart of Christian ethics? If so, Christian ethics is inherently contradictory, for Jesus goes on immediately to add “Then your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35). How can Jesus tell us to give without hope of return, and in the next breath promise rewards? The answer, clearly, has to do with the source of the return. We give to those who cannot return, just as our heavenly Father does, and our heavenly Father provides the return gift that the recipient himself cannot provide. Just as we refrain from vengeance because we are certain that there is an Avenger who will right every wrong with perfect justice, so we refrain from calculation in giving because we are certain that God will reward with perfect mercy. This is an impossible gift only in a atheistic universe. But if there is a Giver who is, as Rowan Williams emphasizes, wholly outside the circle of need, the cycle of gift and return gift, that constitutes human social life, then we are capable of giving without calculation of return.

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