Posted by: Dan | July 31, 2004

Love

Here's the difference between the way in which Christians today define love and the way in which Jesus defined it not that long ago.

Love is in these days. Everybody talks about love, it seems like we are all in agreement that we just need to be more loving. Not that we're doing too bad of a job of it… we'd all like to believe we're pretty caring people. Even more interesting to those who pay a little closer attention, is the fact that Christians and those of other faiths seem to be talking about the same thing when they talk about love. It seems that love is demonstrated in a willingness to sacrifice should the need arise. It is a willingness to give to those who cross our paths. Walking down Queen Street I demonstrate love by stopping to buy lunch for the squeegie kids. Heck, I love my family so much that, should the need arise, I would even die for them., If someone were to fire a gun, I'd jump into the line of fire – that sort of thing.

Unfortunately for us Christians I think Jesus is talking about something very different when he spoke about love. This isn't lost on the authors of the New Testament. In “Romans” 5 Paul says this:

“But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

A little later John writes in “1 John” 3:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

The words sound familiar, the examples equally so, but something radically different is going on here. We have defined love by the willingness to make sacrifices as we cross paths with those in need. Yet this is not love as God has modeled it to us. It is not simply that humanity (and the rest of creation) was headed in one direction, God in another, our paths crossed, Jesus died, and we both keep going our separate ways. No. Fallen humanity was journeying away from God. Yet God demonstrated his love by deliberately placing himself in our path. God went and sought us out.

And that's where the difference lies. As Christians we are not called to give as the need arises. We are called to go out and discover that need – not simply address it as we stumble upon it. That's why we are called to lay down our lives. It is in our living that we pay the price. It is about living a sacrificial life, not simply dying a sacrificial death. The question is no longer, “What are you giving?” but rather, “What are you holding back?” Then the language Jesus used, the language about crosses, about sacrifice, about suffering, starts making sense in hard and practical ways. It's not simply flowery rhetoric, it's the cost of discipleship.

When Jesus tells the famous story of the “Good Samaritan” he concludes by asking, “Who was the neighbor of the robbed man?” The man who was questioning him (remember this takes place in context of the command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself”) responds by saying, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus then says, “You have answered correctly. Go and do likewise.” Love is demonstrated by placing ourselves in the paths of those who have suffered, love is demonstrated in seeking out the wounded – not just waiting until we stumble upon them (which we hardly do. Mostly because we are untrustworthy and unsafe and so those around us never share their stories with us).

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Responses

  1. “We are called to go out and discover that need – not simply address it as we stumble upon it.” Excellent, I really liked this post. The Samaritan story seems to contradict your point of not waiting to stumble across a need, but I get what you’re saying.

  2. The Samaritan story only seems to contradict what I’m saying when you don’t take the closing comments into consideration. Who is the neighbour? The one who shows mercy. Therefore, Jesus says, go and do likewise. The command to go and show this type of mercy entails seeking out those who have experienced something similar to the experience of the robbed man in the story.

  3. interesting post. It seems like as you journey deeper into the kingdom, you move through Jesus parables….we move from being the son, to being the father. Or we move from being the lost sheep to becoming the shepherd that seeks it out; from the broken man lying on the street, to the Samaritan that picks him up. What’s interesting though, is that it seems like as you begin to do this, you begin to recognize that you are the broken man, the returning son, the lost sheep and you begin to discover how God is working to heal you….(allowing you to heal others). Somewhere in beginning to do this, maybe I’ll begin to understand what Love truly is…..and even more who Jesus truly is.

  4. Great comment… I wish I knew who it came from… Jord? Jude? Sounds like a lot of Henri Nouwen language. I first stumbled upon the idea of “becoming the father” in Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”. However, a lot of what you suggest seems to be similar to his argument in “The Wounded Healer.” Here’s the distinction I would make. It’s not so much recognizing that I am the broken man or the returning son. It’s more that I feel I am the returned son. It’s because I have experienced the Father running to meet me on the road that I can now run to meet others. It is because I have been made new in the depths of my brokenness that I can offer new life to others. It’s because I have been found that I can seek others. So the wounds I carry now are not those of old hurts (although there are still scars that will occasionally throb… but even these are not vicarious, remember the scars on the risen Christ…). Rather the brokenness I experience is the brokenness of others. The wounds I suffer are the wounds of others.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound arrogant and I still have a long way to go in my love relationship with God and others. But I am a new creation – I am now engaged in the process of becoming what I already am (as my New Testament prof would always say).

  5. maybe what I should have said is that as you begin to move into the role of father, or shepherd, you begin to understand more fully what you truly are. As you begin to take on the wounds of others, you learn more intimately what it meant that God ran to meet you, that He sought you out….that he picked you up from the side of the road and healed your wounds. I agree that you are a new creation… the depths of which can still be probed and I’d suggest that we do that through the experience of suffering with others.

  6. you know what’s interesting about shifting from ‘waiting’ to ‘searching’?
    When you’re waiting for God to bring opportunities, or you say that you’d respond IF….you never really do anything.
    When the need does present itself, 9 times out of 10 you justify yourself out of it.
    BUT…when you’re searching, seeking people out, how can you be surprised when an opportunity to show love presents itself? That’s what you’re looking for!

  7. Great point, Jord.

    When we move from passivity to activity it can be pretty shocking to discover what has been occuring right in front of us while we were waiting for opportunities.


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