Archives For Love

I’ve heard it said a few too many times. I feel like it’s a well-meaning solution to a serious heart problem.

Maybe you’ve heard it said too. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself (or something very close to it).

“I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em.”

On the one hand, I get it. Each of us has that one person (or two or ten or twenty people) who is (are) difficult to get along with. You try and try to care for that person and to genuinely love them, but they prove themselves to be unlovely. You seek to be kind to them and do the right thing toward them, but if you are really honest you just don’t like them very much. I get it.

On the other hand, it is not God’s kind of love. The love of God that is made known through Jesus is a love that starts in the heart and is expressed in our conduct. It is an inward affection that shows itself in our outward actions. God’s love is an affection that shows itself in action. Any kind of “love” that focuses only on the outward action without flowing from an inward affection is a love that falls way short of the kind of love that God shows to us and calls us to.

Jesus on the Cross 2The kind of love that I’m suggesting here to be God’s kind of love is everywhere in the New Testament:

  • “For God so loved (the affection) the world that He gave (the action) His only Son” (John 3:16a). God loved so God gave.
  • “But God shows his love for us (the affection) in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (the action)” (Rom 5:8). God’s affection for us was put on public display in the death of King Jesus.
  • “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us (the affection), even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive (the action) together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4-5). God loved so God acted.
  • “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us (the affection) and gave us (the action) eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Ths 2:16-17). God loved so God acted.
  • “See what kind of love (the affection) the Father has given (the action) to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). God loved so God acted.
  • “In this the love of God (the affection) was made manifest among us, that God sent (the action) his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love (the affection), not that we have loved God but that he loved us (the affection) and sent (the action) his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). God loved so God sent.

Shall I go on?

It seems to be splattered on almost every page of the New Testament. It’s everywhere. God loves so God acts. God’s inward affection moves Him to outward action—action that is always for our ultimate good. It’s so prominent and obvious I wonder how we can miss it.

But too often we do. Too often I do.

And too often we come up with less-than-ideal alternatives. In tomorrow’s post I’ll explore some of those alternatives.

Dzhokhar TsarnaevLast week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.

Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.

So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.

 

#2 – God Loves Wicked People

The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)

 

#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19–21)

Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15

Love Is Never Lonely

Mark Beuving —  February 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)

Everything that Paul says about love here requires multiple people. Towards whom is love patient? To whom is it kind? Whom does it bear with, believe, hope, and endure?

Holding HandsLove is always directed. Love that sits in one person’s heart and never directs itself toward anyone or anything is not love at all. The heart can sit in isolation and experience emotions like happiness, warmth, or satisfaction. But love does not exist apart from some object toward which it is directed.

My love for my wife is exactly that—love-for-my-wife. It’s not as though I have a store of love in my heart, like some sort of substance which I can choose to dispense here or there as the occasion requires. Love comes with the object. My wife and I stand together, and the love we share is manifested in the patience and kindness we show toward one another, it can be seen in the absence of irritability and resentment between us.

Love that sits alone and focuses on self is not love. For this reason, love is never lonely. You can feel longing for an absent loved one, but you can’t experience the pain of a love that has no beloved—there’s no such thing.

A major problem in the church is our equation of love with romance. The result is that Christians feel pressure to find “the one” they love—their soul mate, their spouse. I am pro-marriage, but I am against the notion that we can begin with a vague sense of love toward “the one” and then sift through all of the candidates until we find him or her. Love requires an object. You can’t love a hypothetical person.

This can also cause us to devote all of our “love”(pseudo-love, really) towards a non-existent object rather than directing it toward the people we interact with every day. We can get so caught up in finding someone to love romantically that we fail to love the people that God has placed in our lives, even as we feel the sting of the “love” we think we feel towards the lover who does not exist.

Because love is always directed, we are only loveless when we have isolated ourselves from people. With each person comes the potential for love. We thrive as human beings not when we have romance, but when we have love. And love is as near as the person next to you. This may include romance, but it doesn’t have to. It has nothing to do with the lovability of the person; it has everything to do with the choice to love.

God first created a solitary man, then declared that it was not good for this one man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). So he created a woman—a wife, yes, but a companion above all. Another human being. An object for his love. Someone to bear with, someone to show patience and kindness.

Love is never lonely. It is as near as the next person to walk through the door. “Let brotherly love continue,” urges the author of Hebrews (13:1). The choice to love will never leave us lonely, because love is always directed.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Two Kinds of Love

Mark Beuving —  February 13, 2013 — 2 Comments
Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard made an interesting distinction between two types of love.

First, there is preferential love. As the name suggests, this kind of love is based on preference. Preferential love is the love we feel towards those we find attractive. It’s the love we feel for those who care for us and love us. It is love towards the lovable.

Obviously, this is a great kind of love to have. We love God because he is lovable (1 John 4:19). We love our friends, family, and lovers. To refrain from loving someone simply because they are lovable would be ridiculous.

Our culture rightly prizes this kind of love. This is the love that most of our songs and movies glorify. There is often a hedonistic and even lustful bent to this kind of love, but the point is, preferential love is directed toward those to whom we feel attraction for whatever reason.

But Kierkegaard contrasts preferential love with what he calls commanded love. This is love of the will. It is love that is directed toward anyone and perhaps everyone. Commanded love looks at a person, and even when there is no attraction or affection, it genuinely wishes that person well.

Obviously, commanded love is the more difficult of the two. Preferential love comes and goes, but commanded love rests on no circumstance. There is no reason why commanded love cannot be directed toward both our dearest friends and our bitterest enemies. If preference and lovability are not determining factors, we may choose to direct the love that wills another’s well-being toward any person at all.

Kierkegaard ties commanded love to one of the biblical words for love—agape. It is an unconditional, un-circumstantial kind of love. Commanded love—agape love—is the kind of love that God showed when he died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8).

Heart in the SandThe point is not to rid ourselves of preferential love. We couldn’t even if we tried. Rather, the point is to command love for every person we encounter. Kierkegaard exhorts us to love our neighbor. By neighbor, he does not necessarily mean the near-person, like our next-door neighbor. Instead, he means the next-person, as in the next person to cross our path. If we will love the next person with commanded love, then we are not differentiating between people based on our tastes and feelings. We are instead loving people as people, valuing them as those made in the image of God and therefore as worthy objects of our love.

A good gauge of how well you are loving your friends and family is how well you are loving your enemies. You have no preferential love for your enemies, or for the outcasts of society. If you find yourself loving them—genuinely wishing them well—then you love them with commanded love. And if you find no commanded love for your enemies, then your love for your friends is likely nothing more than preferential love, subject to change with the whims of your feelings.

As our culture celebrates love this Valentine’s Day, ask yourself which type of love you will be celebrating.

Red CurtainSoren Kierkegaard was concerned that we neglect to love our neighbors because we focus on the dissimilarities between us. We are like actors in play:

“Here you see only what the individual represents and how he does it. It is just as in the play. But when the curtain falls on the stage, then the one who played the king and the one who played the beggar, etc. are all alike; all are one and the same—actors. When at death the curtain falls on the stage of actuality…then they, too, are all one, they are human beings. All of them are what they essentially were, what you did not see because of the dissimilarity that you saw—they are human beings.”

This excellent illustration cuts two ways. First, it affects the way we view other people. We see successful businessmen, gifted speakers, homemakers, professional athletes, homeless people, white or blue collared workers, etc. We notice skin color and gender, confidence and awkwardness.

But Kiekegaard would have us understand that these outward dissimilarities are nothing more than roles we are called upon to play. The differences are there, but the time is coming when the curtain will fall, and the man who played the king will sit down for drinks with the man who played the beggar. And they will sit together as equals, for they are not king and beggar in reality—these were roles they assumed on the stage—they are nothing more and nothing less than actors. They are equal.

We would do well, then, to look past the outward symbols of dissimilarity when we encounter another person. We should look deeply into her eyes and recognize the gaze of a fellow human being. This allows us to view the other person as a neighbor.

Isn’t this the way it works in our neighborhoods? There is no hierarchy on my street. When I stand on the sidewalk with my neighbors, we don’t relate to each other as realtor, professor, plumber, and contractor. We are simply neighbors. We spend much of  our lives on adjacent lots. The roles we play and the costumes we wear are irrelevant; we are able to love one another as equals.

The conversations I have on my street are a taste of humanity stripped of its dissimilarities. If only we could see everyone in that light. If only we could stop playing games and simply love.

But this will also require us to see the other direction that Kiekegaard’s illustration cuts. Kierkeggard would have us look to ourselves and remember that we, too, are only actors, regardless of how important a role we believe ourselves to be playing:

“We seem to have forgotten that the dissimilarity of earthly life is just like an actor’s costume…so that each one individually should be on the watch and take care to have the outer garment’s fastening cords loosely tied and, above all, free of tight knots so that in the moment of transformation the garment can be cast off easily.”

Do you have some level of power in this life? Don’t hold it too closely. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You have been called upon to play the role of an executive or a teacher or an overseer or a day laborer. But that role does not define you. Make no mistake that one day your costume will have to be removed. Better to wear the costume loosely so that you are prepared to step back into the role of human being as soon as the play ends.

It’s difficult to see other people as neighbors when we see ourselves as big shots. So play your role well. Give it everything it deserves. But don’t forget that the stage only extends so far. Don’t lose sight of the curtain—it is going to drop. And there you will stand—no longer the king, but an actor. A neighbor. A human.