Been thinking about love. Greeks had several words for it, just as they had several words for life. There are different kinds. In English, we are stuck with single nouns for things that often have multiple faces. In Lutheran elementary school back in Nebraska we used to sing "...and they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes they'll know that we are Christians by our love." Few words could better describe the little community of Christ followers that sprang to life against great odds in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus. These folks, some of whom had previously been on opposite ends of the socio-political spectrum, not only took care of the poor, the widows and the orphans among their own. They developed a reputation for taking care of the needy among Jews, Gentiles and even the Roman occupiers in their city.
Quaint bit of nostalgia? Revisionist history? Vision for the future? Judge for yourself, but here's the question. If children can sincerely sing that little song I quoted above, why does it seem so hard for adults to sing it--and live it? Could it be a love thing? When the world out there plays the game of Password with the term Christian, would the first thing they think of be love?
What's love got to do with it, and what's it mean to love? God's people, all of us, were built to love--although we have the capacity to do quite the opposite. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. No word in Hebrew and Christian scripture (both testaments, or covenants) is so consistent and so clear. It first pops up at Leviticus 19:18, to be repeated again and again. Jesus holds up this standard at Matthew 22:37-40 and places it right alongside the bedrock Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4. Everything hangs on the parallel standards of loving God and loving our neighbors. One can't happen without the other, just as there cannot be a one-sided coin. Physical impossibility. Everything, Jesus said, hangs on this. That's more than a whole bunch. It's, well...everything! Apostle Paul, that fireball out of Tarsus, refers again and again to both Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures in his letters and epistles. We can bet he did the same in person.
Love. What's it mean to love????? First thing that comes to mind is that love cannot be commanded. Yet, God does so! Repeatedly. But love doesn't just happen. Pop songs, TV and video notwithstanding, people don't "fall in love". No, they don't! People may develop attraction for each other that can be quite powerful, to be sure. (Hey, I was young once! Really, I was!) Properly directed and cared for, attraction can lead to friendship, relationship and more, whether that be marriage, parenting or working side-by-side on a cause.
But love doesn't just happen any more than houses or bridges do. Love gets built. It takes time. It takes work. It takes investment. There can be no payback unless there first has been an investment. But none of that is something that can be commanded to happen out of the blue.
Then what's God getting at by commanding that which cannot be commanded? Relationship. Getting to know. Getting deeply involved. Overcoming strangeness by no longer being strangers to one another. That's what's implied when we are commanded to love. Love is the end of the process, not its beginning.
Think about it. We are not commanded to love everyone. That's an impossibility. But we are commanded by Jesus himself to love two seemingly disparate groups of people: our neighbors and our enemies. Here's the intriguing part. So long as that other person, (neighbor, enemy or self) remains entirely "other", he or she is not real to me. I cannot love in theory. I cannot love a stranger or an enemy or a self whom I do not know. I can harbor hatred, but I cannot engender love. In order to love, I have to get to know. I must develop a relationship. Another person's life and story have to become a part of mine. My life and story have to become a part of theirs. 'Cause love doesn't just happen. Love gets built. Among neighbors. Between enemies. Even within oneself.
Several years ago, Yes! Magazine titled an entire issue "Can Love Save the World?" Well.....how else ya gonna do it? What else could? Laws? WMD? Surveillance cameras? AK-47's? Commands? Not a prayer! It takes love, and that's why it is at the core of God's message and Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Love is what God has always been about and always will be about. Jesus said so. I believe him. He's already made the investment.
Is love the core of what Christians are about? Does anyone know this about us? How on earth would they? Ready for a little Password, anyone?
Next time: How is love different from liking, tolerating and accepting?