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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Theology Tuesday III

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.
- The First Epistle of St. Peter, Chapter Three, Verses 8-11.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
The Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter Five, Verses 43-46

One of the most unique aspects of Christianity is not that it says to love your neighbor. Most religions do this. What is far more rare is that we are called to love our enemies. Peter Kreeft does a wonderful job of going into detail about what this love is...and what it is not. To summarize, he lays out some misconceptions about love. Here are five that have some relevance to today's subject:

1) Love is not a feeling. We can't feel all warm and snuggly about our enemies, any more than we cab hug a roll of concertina barbed wire. That "love" is better described as "luv", a term I plan to use a lot in the future. "We fall in luv but we do not fall in love. We rise in love."

2) You do not love humanity, you love an individual. "Love of humanity is easy because humanity does not surprise you with inconvenient demands. You never find humanity on your doorstep, stinking and begging." The love of humanity is the love of secular humanism. The love of Christ is the love of a person.

3) Love is not kindness. "Kindness is the desire to relieve another's suffering. Love is the willing of another's good. A father can spank his child out of love. And God is a father." Kindness is wanting to stop the bad, while love is desiring the best for a person and doing something about it. We are kind to our pets, and "put them out of their misery" by the thousands. If we love our neighbor, we realize that depriving them of life is anything but love.

4) God is love, but love is not God. Worship of love eliminates the Almighty Creator from the equation, and treats him as a force or energy. No, saying that God is love is expressing a critical component of the nature of God, while saying that love is God is claiming that our own, failure-ridden human love is all one needs to know of God. The first is a profound eternal truth, the other is damnable nonsense.

5) You can't be 'in love with love', any more than you can have faith in faith, or hope in hope, or see sight. That is "luv", confused yet again.

That is what love is and is not, the love of Christ which constrains us to good works - love in action. It is not our feelings of "luv" which identify us as Christians, not any more than it is our doctrines, theology or creeds. It is our love for our neighbor, indeed, our love for our enemies, that truly identifies those who have the Holy Spirit inside of them.

What form does this take? It that described above by Jesus and by St. Peter. When someone rails against us and our faith, we respond in gentleness. When we are decried for being intolerant, we emphasize the love of Christ while refusing to compromise, in that his love is available to all. It is a prayer for those who hurt us - not a prayer of vengeance, but a prayer of forgiveness and a prayer for the soul of that person.

You see, as hard as it is, that is the form of true love, the love borne of God in Christ Jesus. It is not a command to foolishness - to put trust in the untrustworthy or to profess acceptance of wickedness. Instead, it is to treat them as you would wish to be treated - with honor, respect and love, the very way Christ treated us while we hated Him. It is to note the good in every person when we can, to speak well of them (as much as we can in regard to their goodness) and not backbiting. The practice of love includes our tongues as well as our actions.

As we wander in a world that is not our home, we face the reality of Christian living: that struggling against the sins of the culture is necessary, but so is the love of those who are the purveyors of sin. A phrase I have used for years, that certainly is a cliche from someone else, is this:

"You can't touch someone until you reach out your hand to them."

To lead others to the love of Christ, we must first love them ourselves. Everything else will follow.


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