As our church embarks on an outstanding effort to love where we are and live and work, the Sunday school class I help teach is following along in a series entitled, “We Are”. In essence, this is a series that seeks to define us, a particular local church with several campuses (and thus, many diverse contexts), primarily by who we are/are becoming rather than what we believe. No doubt, what we believe is very important, but it’s far too often oversold in a way that does more harm than good, in my opinion. Afterall, I’m fresh off of a Jeremiah 35 post in which some of the “non-chosen” are promised a favorable standing before Yahweh for the rest of time based on their obedience to their forefather’s command to abstain from drinking wine, building houses, and cultivating crops. No mention of what they “believed” except in scholarly attempts to recreate said beliefs, not that this is necessarily wrong, but it is interesting that about the closest mention of their religiosity comes from the fact that it’s believed that Moses married into their clan.
To me it’s refreshing to tie our beliefs and our actions together. It’s also extremely challenging. If I believe “X” intellectually, but my life doesn’t reflect an ounce of said belief, I think Paul would say that belief is “rubbish”. I also think that anytime one utters a sentence that causes Christians to think about how their beliefs affect their actions or the lack thereof, we automatically think of sexual purity. We think: “Here’s the part where we can bash the pornographers and the homosexuals. Man, I feel better!” But no! I don’t think this is the extent of what Paul or Jesus (remember him?) has in mind at all. No doubt purity is important, but a big challenge that derives from loving like Jesus did comes from Jesus’ own example in engaging seriously, compassionately, and lovingly with those who would never have passed the purity test. Of course, he challenged all kinds in many different ways, but I can’t think of a single instance where he lambasted an adulterer, a homosexual, a prostitute, a sex worker, etc. He didn’t. He did, however, engage them in a way that sure seemed loving, yet challenging, and yet from a place of humility that seems alien to most of the Christian encounters with homosexuals that we see caricatured on our TV sets and in secular blog posts.
So I come to the question of “love” with some questions: What are the definitions of love that our society has put forth? What are the definitions of love that the “Christian Church” has put forth? What did Jesus say and do in depicting his definition of love?
Of course, one idea is to look at Jesus, which I will do, and to report what he did that revealed his love. That would be the “Sunday School Answer” which of course I can use…in Sunday School, but I also wanted to hear from all stripes. I always think it’s interesting to poll people on this stuff. By doing so, we can see that there is a plurality when it comes to interpretation. Even in something as fundamental as love, people differ on how it should be expressed.
I got to thinking about Christianity’s view of love. There are the Rob Bells (and sooooooo many other Christians before him) who say that “Love Wins”. That means that God’s love is so massive that it can’t/won’t be denied at the end. Talk about irresistable grace! Ha, who is the modern Calvinist now? Rob Bell carries out the idea that God’s love won’t be denied in the end and that God will ultimately save all of His creation.
Others don’t go so far. Three of my favorites (and likely several others): N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard (RIP), and C.S. Lewis (RIP) seem to take a different route than Bell when they basically say that unfortunately, some will not be prepared to meet the Lord, some will basically choose the absence of God, and/or some will remain in hell which is locked from the inside. Lots to say on this, but no time and not really the point. But this does have to do with God’s love. No Christians I know of deny scripture’s claim that “God is love”, but it’s a veritable buffet when it comes to defining how God loves, what God’s love looks like, and how God’s justice (retributive?) fits into His love.
God’s love is tranformative. He has acted in history in a most amazing way to display that love, and His actions demand a response. He went to the cross for the world’s sins. He went willingly. His love was greater than even the excrutiating pain of the cross.
I think a lot of times, Christian love puts the cart before the horse. So, “Change and become more like me and then I will love you.” Jesus didn’t do this. He loved right where He was and right where the subjects of His love were. He expected a response and transformation, but He didn’t wait for it before loving the person.
I’ve got more thoughts on this, but a big question I keep running into is whether what we Christians consider to be “love” with certain types of sinners is actually just judgment designed to change the person. How affirming is love? How affirming was Jesus’ love? Jesus definitely challenged and was frank with those he ministered to. Concerning the rich young ruler, the text says Jesus “loved him” right before he tells him to get rid of everything he had. Now, perhaps that’s different since the man asked Jesus a pointed question about inheriting eternal life. What can be drawn out, though, from this scene is that the rich young ruler sought Jesus perhaps believing that Jesus would applaud him for his righteousness, and instead, Jesus challenges the man beyond his will.