The Radical Love of Christ

My latest for the Longview News-Journal.


 

Of all the emotions that humanity processes, there is one that with fills our hearts or makes us cringe thinking about it: love. If you ever speak to children about love they will equate it being surrounded by worms or snakes. It is not something that they want to talk about. Love is that mysterious emotion that is hard to describe yet we know it when we see it or feel it. We throw the word around in everyday conversation: “Oh I love that!,” “I love carrot cake!,” or “I really do love you.”  English is not very helpful with the notion of love. There is just one word to encompass love for our children or spouses to really liking something. To complicate the issue further, Christianity has love as one of its foundational tenants and beliefs. Christian love is a completely different notion of love. In the Gospels, Jesus states that the summary of all the laws and the teachings of the prophets is to love God and to love your neighbor as much as you love your own self. Christians, for the most part, are excited to proclaim that they love God; they want to be on God’s side and have felt the goodness and mercy found in God’s powerful, perfect love. It is the second part of Jesus’ statement that causes some discomfort for us. Loving our neighbors is not as easy as it sounds; we like to think that we are as loving as Jesus was or we are really close. No one likes to believe that they are not loving or kind; we are called live out the ways of Jesus and that includes loving others.  Unfortunately, we redefine love on our terms, setting up condition after condition that must take place before we grant someone our love. The general thought is if you are mean to me, then I have the right to remove my love; if you make choices that I don’t approve of then I have the right to remove my love. Love in this scenario becomes a commodity, something that can be bought or sold or traded whenever we deem it necessary or beneficial to us and our wellbeing. We begin to rationalize our actions and even look for obscure theological rational to make our case.

We think that we are right and justified for not loving people. We believe that we can tell God our reasons, layout for God our case and God will say “you make a valid point. Sure go right ahead stop loving that person. I grant thee permission.”

However, if we can make that proclamation, doesn’t then God have the right to do it back to us?  Thankfully, that is something outside the nature of who God is, what God is capable of. Scripture reminds us that God is love, the source of love, the ground upon which we love.

Christians say it to each other, we sing it on our hymns, we place it on our billboards, t-shirts, bumper stickers and marque signs; we proclaim it boldly and triumphantly: God is Love!  However, we don’t like the scripture that reminds us that we are called to love each other. It goes against the model that we have set up for ourselves. Throughout all of human history, there have been conflicts between groups of people, races, classes and social status. Often when one group gets power they tend to look down on the other deeming them inferior or lacking in the requisite social capital to contribute to society. Jesus’ mission and ministry were based on the notion that all people were worthy of love and welcomed by God, all people were to be seen as a brother or a sister. Sure, people will mess up or make mistakes but so does everyone.

Jesus’ teachings were radical. They called for the ending of division, the breaking down of barriers that separate each other. Today we find more and more barriers in our world and sadly our churches. Many Christians do not model inclusive, radical, counter-cultural love. For change to happen in our community, state, and nation, the insider/outsider mentality must stop. God’s love has no bounds and neither should ours. God’s love is transformative and so should ours be. I John 4 poses the question, how can we say we love God who is unseen when we fail to love our brother and sister who is seen?  If we say we have God’s love in us then it should be evident to all people, in all places and at all times.

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