Written by Sam Logan
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 00:00
I started my previous blog with a story narrated by Stan Duncan, columnist for the Huffington Post.
I start this blog with a story from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (which I happen to believe is the greatest novel ever written):
The more I love humanity in general , the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.
I suspect that one reason why I love The Brothers Karamazov so much is that several of its characters seem to be speaking “the thoughts and intentions” of my own heart. And that is nowhere truer than in the quotation above.
Of course, I should love my enemies. No problem! Except when you expect me to love that person who cost me my job.
Of course, I should love those whom I think are sinners. No problem! Except when those people are publically advocating things that I believe are wrong.
Of course, I should love folks regardless of their race or culture or religious conviction. No problem! Except when you expect me to love those whom I think are seeking to overthrow my country or my school or my church.
What does love in action look like in those kinds of situations?
I have three suggestions – all taken at least in part from the quotation above.
1. Our love, if it is to be Scriptural love, must be individual.
The world is a big place. Humanity is a massive concept. But people come into our lives as individuals. And that is where love must begin. Don’t worry about whether you love “Muslims.” Has the Lord brought into your life an individual Muslim? If He has, then that is where your love needs to be focused – on the individual man or woman or child with whom the Sovereign Lord has given you contact.
But, unfortunately for most of us, the biblical command seems to me to be even more intense and challenging. If, for example, the threat of Islamic terrorism seems especially powerful for you and if you feel it part of your calling from God to speak out against that threat, then it may actually be your responsibility to seek out an individual, specific Muslim to whom you can demonstrate the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated for you. Not a passive love – if a starving Muslim shows up on my doorstep, I will give him a meal. But an active love – I will seek out a Muslim in order to show him/her the love of Christ.
Remember the passage from Ephesians 4 and 5 which I cited in my first blog on this subject? We are to act as Jesus did, and I guarantee you that none would never have experienced the love of Christ if He had waited until we showed up asking him for that love. It was while we were yet sinners that He died for us. He sought us out, not the opposite. That is the sort of love we need to show, especially to those who are part of a group – any group – with which we frequently and publically express our disagreement.
This is precisely the lesson that Alyosha needs to learn in The Brothers Karamazov. And the fact that he does learn it is reflected in the final three words of the book, “Hurray for Karamazov!”
2. Our love, if it is be Scriptural love, must include positive presence in the lives of those we are loving.
One of the best books of the 21stcentury is James Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern Worldand the best section of that book is Part III, where Dr. Hunter discusses what he calls “faithful presence.” Here is what he means by that term:
This, in short, is the foundation of a theology of faithful presence. It can be summarized in two essential lessons for our time. The first is that incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution; the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it. From this follows the second: it is the way the word became incarnate in Jesus Christ and the purposes to which the incarnation was directed that are the only adequate reply to the challenge of difference. For the Christian, if there is a possibility for human flourishing in a world such as ours, it begins when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, is embodied in us, is enacted through us and in doing so, a trust is forged between the word spoken and the reality to which it speaks; to the words we speak and the realities to which we, the church, point. In all, presence and place matter decisively. [Emphasis his.]
Thank God (and I mean that literally) He did not just love us from afar. He came and dwelt among us – and we call that the Incarnation. Think of it: the majestic , holy, sovereign Creator entered the world of sin and suffering and death and lived among those He was in the process of loving into the Kingdom of Heaven. Talk about “amazing grace!”
Remember the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of Ephesians 5?
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).
This is, in my opinion an inerrant command to the people of God, that they not only love individually but that they also love within personal relationships with those with whom they disagree.
To apply this to one of the categories which I mentioned in the first blog in this series, if my “cause” is opposing abortion on demand and if I am to obey the command cited above, then I must seek out someone who has performed such an abortion or someone who has had such an abortion and I must be “faithfully present” in that person’s life. Among other things, this means simply seeking opportunities to be with that person, not in order to argue with them yet again about abortion but, as Jesus did, to “give myself up” for them in love. Of course, I continue to want that person to change, but, while I am with him, I will genuinely be seeking their good in all kinds of ways.
James Hunter, in the book I mentioned above, spends a good bit of time teasing out the specific implications of Jeremiah 29: 7 [“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”] Here is one of his conclusions:
The story of Jeremiah 29 comports well with what we learn from St. Peter, who with so many others, speaks of Christian as “exiles in the world” (1:1, 2:11), encouraging us to “live [our] lives as strangers here in reverent fear (1:17). God is at work in our own place of exile, and the welfare of those with whom we share a world is tied to our own welfare. In this light, St. Peter encourages believers repeatedly to be “eager to do good” (3:17) and for each person to “use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (4:10). This understanding also comports with other New Testament admonitions to “never tire of doing right” (II Thess. 3:13), to “let your magnanimity be manifest to all” (Phil. 4:5), and to “look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own” (Phil. 2: 4). As Paul writes elsewhere, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (I Cor. 12:7). All of this is in keeping with the instruction that the people of God are to be committed to the welfare of the cities in which they reside in exile, even when the city is indifferent, ungrateful, or hostile.
3. Our love, if it is to be Scriptural love, must be hopefully patient.
Here is how Paul puts it in I Corinthians 13: “Love is patient and kind . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Among other things, this suggests that love, if it is to be Scriptural love, must endure even the reality that it doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect. The person whom I love does not seem to be changing as I think she should. If, in light of that fact, I give up loving her individually and with a faithful presence, then my love is not the kind of love Scripture commands.
I have to say that, of all the ways that I should love those with whom I disagree, this is the hardest for me. I am, by sinful nature, extremely impatient. I love someone and it doesn’t seem to bring about any change after a couple of weeks and I am ready to quit and go on to someone else. That is not Scriptural love.
Scriptural love is patient and is based on the absolute conviction that, in the final analysis, there is nothing that I can do that will get a person into the Kingdom. That’s God’s job. My job is to love as I have been loved and to trust that, in His time and in His way, He will use my faithful, individual, loving presence, and will keep His promise –
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
Does this mean that I simply ignore beliefs or behaviors which I really do believe are wrong? Do I pretend that someone’s racist attitude or behavior is really all right or that any form of sexual behavior is fine so long as it involves “consenting adults”?
No, faithful, individual, loving presence does not mean this. But this blog has already gone on too long so I will have to wait until the next blog to discuss “Two ways I should NOT love those with whom I disagree.”
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan