We live in a very strange time. The old Chinese proverb” may you live in interesting times” was a curse originally and many of us feel like we live under that curse.
It is an interesting time of reversal. For instance, just a couple months ago grocery stores all over the country banned plastic bags and wanted you to bring your own reusable cloth bags. As with anything in modern consumerism, this became a form of both utility but also virtue signaling. It caught my attention in March when grocery stores no longer allowed reusable bags. This is an interesting reversal.
We are seeing so many reversals! From which workers are considered essential to our definition or restriction of who is in our inner circle.
Even love is being reevaluated. It is a unique type of love that says I care enough about you and your wellness that I will distance myself from you. Strange times indeed.
I thought it would be good for us to continue on our journey as Easter people with looking at hope two weeks ago, face last week, and love this week. This triad of terms comes to us from the famous wedding passage in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that says “faith, hope, and love but the greatest of these is love.”
In the Greek language that the New Testament in our Bible is written in, there are several vocabulary words that all gets translated into English as love. Agape, eros, philia, storge, mania, pragma and ludos are examples. They cover a wide array and variety of loves.
We live in a time where some in our society have felt emboldened with what can be viewed as un-love. This manifests in animosity, racism, and anti-immigrant sentiment. It is a sad development in what many of us had previously viewed as a time of progress and open-mindedness for acceptance and openness towards differences. (Some of our cultural opponents may, view this as permissiveness, pandering, political correctness and moral weakness.)
In contrast to that progressive churches like ours have become advocates for tolerance and justice issues. We view this as a type of love for the other.
I want to take this opportunity, as long as we are reevaluating things during this difficult time, to say that our notion of love for the other maybe flawed in a really dangerous way.
A common sentiment I hear from caring liberal kinds is the notion that “they are just like us except…”.
- They are just like us except they were born in a different country.
- They are just like us except that they have different skin color.
- They are just like us except that they are attracted to people of a different sex.
This seems kind and caring on the surface, but there is a concerning misunderstanding underneath this seemingly open and accepting ideology.
We need to be careful that we don’t love other people because they are like us.
Do you see the danger? When we love people because we imagine that they are just like us except… this is certainly better than our opponent’s un-love (hatred) but as followers of Christ I want to be clear: that is not exactly love.
Love for others because they are like us concerns me because what if it turns out that they are not actually like us? Will we still love them despite the difference?
What if they value very different thing? What is they view the world very differently than we do? What is their goals and teams deliver them to a different destination then we had hoped for, what is they have different priorities or spend their money differently or raising children differently or have different sexual appetites?
Do we only love them because we are imagining that deep down inside they are exactly like us?
That is quite a dangerous fiction and ban become a very disappointing fantasy.
This is why as Christians we need to be careful and clear about who we love and why we love them.
1 John 4 says “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
You see it clearly here: God does not love us because we were like God–but for the very opposite reason! Because we were far from God, we were not like God, we did not prioritize what God did or value the things that God values.
This is love. Not because of similarity but exactly and precisely because of difference.
There is a sentiment in our culture that says, ‘an enemy is just somebody whose story you haven’t heard yet.’ As if to say that if you knew what made them tick or what they have been through in the past that they would no longer be your enemy.
Do you see the flaw here? As my favorite philosopher Slavoj Žižek points out that the problem with Hitler is not that we didn’t know his story. Knowing someone’s story does not make them any less your enemy.
This is why Jesus calls us not only love our neighbor as ourselves, something that liberals pride themselves on, but Jesus calls us to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us.
Enemy love is not based in similarity but indifference. This is where I like to quote GK Chesterton who said,
“It’s not that the gospel has been tried and found difficult, it’s that it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Now in contrast to the un-love of anti-immigration sentiment, anti-gay rhetoric and the legacy of racism in our country… we may view our liberal and open-minded acceptance and tolerance as a form of love. And it is a kind of love. But I want to be clear that it is not Christian love.
Christian love is not rooted in similarity because deep down somebody is just like us. The spirit of Christ calls us – no, compels us – and empowers us to love across difference and even to love those with whom we disagree. It calls us to love our enemy.
If we love people because they are like us we have done Little more than the average republican. Everyone loves people who are like themselves. Even lawyers do that. Sex-workers do that. Elementary school teachers do that. Nurses do that. Everyone does that.
No, what we are called to is a greater love. Not because deep down somebody is like us but in spite of the fact that they’re very different from us.
This is the love of God that we are called to. This is the higher calling and as long as we are in this time of global pause before we come out of social distancing and stay at home restrictions it is a great time for us to reflect and adjust our trajectory for how we want to emerge out of it this time. Let us be people of real love across difference in spite of disagreement even to those who may despise us into work against our values, undermine our convictions, and even those who seek to destroy the things we hold dear.
As progressive types and liberals, we may be disappointed in the ways of the world is going… but that is exactly why love is so deeply needed in our time.