|1) Ethical agency|
In this mode of action the human being is enjoined by constraint of divine commandment and / or spiritual motivation to act constructively in terms of others and the environment.
If this fundamental distinction is well-established, robust notions of self conceived in terms of this category that can develop according to conceptualities of personal life-planning and political existence. Eschatological agency certainly figures in to the faith of ethical human agents but entirely in terms of anticipatory religious practices associated with the eschatological doctrines of M/M. Ethical agency arises from a combination of free obedience to the law of God and loving voluntarism in terms of generosity of action and regard for the other.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant attempted to join the two through the concepts of right and virtue. In this vision, self-respect and other-respect are carefully balanced through a necessity of mutual reinforcement. There is in Kant, however, an over-critical dimension concerning the self-love that is a necessary part of other-love in all ethical agency. One is always acting toward oneself as one acts toward others.
Of course self-love is a highly visible feature of ancient reasoning about the self in relation to others. Aristotle's Nichomachian Ethics, Bk IX, as essential to all friendship. Not at all characteristic of grasping greed, self-love assumes of model of the self according to the highest, noblest virtues of character and generosity. Everything about self-love is connected with a life-time of identity formation according to the highest principles of moral and affective cultivation.
The genuineness of this self-love actually becomes a necessary prerequisite to ethical action toward others. Friendship is also a crucial aspect here because the self-identity cultivated by self-love is not only a determination to be conformed to virtuous principles but to emulated and mutually motivate one's friend and to be motivated by one's friend in their pursuit. The moment that virtue begins to be born in the self and in the friend with whom one also shares in the mutually conditioned self-love, this love is intensified by the lovability of the nascent virtue element that has become detectable both to oneself and to the other.
The classic concern that virtue must be loved for its own sake, indifferent to the desires of the self, prove to be entirely wrong-headed; that until the self awakens to the desire for virtue and begins to embody it through self-cultivation of virtue, virtue cannot truly begin to be realized. Indeed, the affinity of the human being with another human being is the ground of friendship, such the self-love and other-love cannot be wholly distinguished from one another.
Just as true self-love will not be tolerant of the failures of the self to be virtuous, so too will the friend be intolerant toward failures to pursue the same by the friend.
Although Kant's reasoning on this matter called for duty to supersede all other virtues, this is clearly not a balance tending toward the favoring of love and mercy. His overwhelming concern with self-conceit and arrogance hardly leaves any room for rightful self-love. Kant's goal was an objective grounding of morality, not a yet higher principle of mercy and love. But like fundamental concern with the law, the mature, highly differentiated and cultivated self that corresponds at a creaturely level to the Creator Self that is the unique deity, is completely lost on Kant. Indeed, Kant does not believe that a proper self-love ever exists.
Benevolence is only a duty; and while he is most concerned with duty as an invariable cause of right action - love or affection being to easily disturbed to be relied upon, even the pleasure of seeing other takes joy in one's benevolence toward them could just as well be taken as a matter of indifference. Thus, while Kant is guided by his reduction of human agency to that of duty and virtue as the unwavering commitments to fulfill one's duty - objectively and universalistically,
he fails to give a proper account of the person as a highly affective self comparable at the creaturely level to the Creator. Suffice it to say that Kant can affirm self-respect along with respect for others, but as helpful and laudable as his cultivation of autonomous agency is, it does not conceive largely nor intricately enough of the self as ethical agent. While human agency must achieve moral action, human existence is not defined by its agency, but its agency is defined by the human and its qualities of living.
This is where the teachings of Jesus, specifically his love command, along with the prophets and apostles who embody the same command become indispensible. Although the anti-philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, together with exegetes such as Albert Schweitzer of the early 20th century recognized the subjugation of human life to the falsehoods of a moral system that reduced the human being to a mere agent of action, it is always required that the words of revelation are restored to their authoritative position in philosophical reflection.
Great passages such as "God so loved the world," "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength," "the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath," "love your neighbor as yourself," "you are my disciples if you have love for one another," "now abide faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love," are all indications of the centrality of love in ethical agency and the self-formation of the believer.
In the love command of scripture, which is said to sum up all commands, to embrace it and to advance it through obedient action is not merely to achieve correct legal behavior, but to achieve full humanness from the Creator / Redeemer that is God. Just as God's being cannot be reduced to his actions, neither can the human being. Actions serve to achieve relations functions which are greater than the discrete actions as such. The bond of affection and relationship by which virtue enabling covenants and ultimately family and friendship with God and with others, is the incomparable goal of all human agency just as it is in all divine agency. Indeed, eschatological agency is but the fulfillment of divine love and human destiny in that love.
Understanding ethical agency through the love command of Jesus and of all revelation is the critical importance of development and maturation of the self in relation to God and to others. Obviously, the connection between the institutional concerns of the law in establishing and maintaining a society that embodies political, economic and criminal justice require a reasonable if very imperfect application of human judgment and action to others within a wider community.
Obedience to the love command and the self that is formed by it is a response to transcendent reality, creating a permanent and necessary paradoxical tension that is required of all learning and practice of ethical agency. The tension is to be embraced so that the status quo of human tradition and practice will never be seen as a perfect achievement, but as it truly is, always affected by the sin and error that is the human condition. With the application of the love command to human life of course most supremely, one is enjoined to the most radical application of divine love, namely, to love all equally, including one's enemies. As found in the central message of Jesus' Gospel, Matthew 5:
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The will of God for the human being is based upon the very pattern of the will of God for himself in universal love. God is impartial; God makes no distinctions in his love. This does not mean that the imperfect systems of justice devised by human beings can be eliminated, but that we as human beings must never allow ourselves to be reduced to that imperfection. No human being, however unjust and unloving in behavior, can be treated any less justice than another, since this is the will of God and the action God shows toward everyone. God's perfection is in his equal love and treatment of every human being - as the Apostle writes: God "has bound everyone under sin so that he may be merciful to all."
This does not mean that he honors everyone equally; or that great achievement in holiness is irrelevant. Righteous living and loving service is immensely greater than wickedness and cruelty.
There is no one who is not in need of mercy because every human being is a sinner. Although the levels of sin from one individual to the next may hold magnitudes of difference, nevertheless, all require the mercy of God. Just as the sun and the rain are universal blessings upon all coming from God's perfection, human love must all be all-inclusive. Ethical agency in light of the love command requires equal regard toward all on the part of believers. As the great Medieval poet, Iacopone da Todi O Charity, true life - for every other love is dead - You break no laws, but obey them all; and in the heart In which there is no law, you bring it into being.
He who flees from you cannot know the sweetness of your fruit. At the level of institutions and the practice of law, the best human beings may be able to accomplish is equality before the law, attached to it will be an impulsion to see that the essentials of goodness in human living might also be achieved for all. Because God's action is directed by his loving Being, no exercise of justice is without compassion and the obligation to alleviate the suffering of human beings as a part of the life-long formation of the self in love. Here we must realize that when revelation speaks of God's mercy, it is never a passive activity on God's part but active, benevolent, forgiving. Human love based upon the model of divine love will then also have this active basis for every expression of itself.
This is perhaps no better summarized than in the apostle's injunction to avoid vengeance in the practice of justice by deferring vengeance entirely to the God in all of his exclusive perfection and rights. Presuming that human faith and love are ever anything more than imperfect, requiring deepest humility, is to express that most rejected pseudo-religious self-justifying so rejected by revelation. For human beings, the norm of justice as ethical agents of divine love is to find out how to achieve forgiveness as the highest expression of divine mercy in all of our imperfect judgments and human relations.
Since every human being, no matter how faithful they might be before God, still and always requires divine mercy, this mercy in the form of universal forgiveness of the love command is the highest achievement of ethical agency.
One of the great concepts of pre-eschatological time and its conditions for divine / human agency is the "Between the Times" - between the time of creation and consummation, but particularly between the time of the Messiah's first coming and his second coming. The Second Coming, otherwise known as the Parousia (lit. "Presence" of God and of the Messiah, who's Spirit, imbues him and the whole world when He appears). Humanity lives until this end (eschatos) in a transitional, transitory state of non-permanence and must carry out everything according to faith, hope, and love.
Before the of M/M events, humanity must live with its radical limitations - radical in the sense of the depths of human finitude and proneness to sin and therefore the unending struggle to live ethically, toward others, oneself and always toward God. Under these conditions, God is most often called "Merciful" because this supreme need of humanity is mercy. If humanity was not so fallible; if even its best obedience to God and the law were not so very imperfect, some other attribute of God would have been elevated to first place.
Divine mercy receives the most mentioned because God's most frequent act toward human beings is the forgiveness of sin and assistance in our weakness. The needs and lacks of humanity are not in God or his plan (or "divine economy" - oikonomia) for creation, but God has permitted humanity to endure this condition in order to instill in them the ethical strength that one day he, completely independent of us, will perfect through resurrection. Until then, we are ethical agents on a pilgrimage between the inauguration and the completion of Messianic promises.