Sunday, January 4, 2015

God Is Love, But Love Is Not Always Nice

Over the past few months, I've really dug into an interesting concept: what it means to love people as a Christian. There are all sorts of views about this, and most of them can be categorized in one of two categories: "Love" and "Justice". People on one extreme say that we should never judge anyone and just "love" everyone, in which they mean give them grace in such a way that ignores their actions and the consequences for their actions. On the other extreme, you have people who are going around telling everyone how wrong they are, and that they're going to hell, and God is going to judge them for the horrible things they're doing. Neither extreme has it right, and as in most things I've found related to God, there is a balance between the two that we as Christians need to walk. But the more I thought and studied the topic, the more I've come to believe that "love" and "justice" are misleading terms, since the two are actually mutually inclusive. But let me back up.

God is love. One can know this simply by reading any part of the Bible with an open mind--the thread of God's love for humanity lies throughout the entire narrative, in every poem and song, in every historical account, in every prophecy, you can see the overwhelming desire of God's to be in an intimate relationship with His creation.

But we need to define the term love, as Christians. After some considerable thought, I believe that this simple definition might be the most accurate: loving someone is giving them what they need emotionally. Most of the time, that is acceptance, companionship, grace, servitude--being there for someone. Everyone has a deeply rooted desire to feel like they belong, and loving someone truly is to show them that they do belong, and that they are accepted. But if love can be defined as giving people what they need, then there comes a point when what someone needs is not going to be what they want.

My parents can tell you this, from hundreds of experiences throughout their illustrious careers as youth leaders, that loving people with the truth is hard, but necessary. They've told me time and time again that you have to be okay with people not liking you for a while, maybe even hating you. But hopefully, as God works on their heart, the person you spoke truth to will be able to look back and thank you for it.

Obviously, different situations call for different approaches. For the most part, if you're in a situation with a non-Christian, and they are involved in sin, calling them out on it will neither be productive or loving. But there also come times when the truth does need to be spoken, and at that point the most loving thing to do is often not what modern Christians would call "loving".

We, as Christians, need to keep each other accountable with our actions and our words, and dancing around subjects because you don't want to hurt people's feelings is a horrible way to do that. There needs to come a point when one follower of Jesus Christ looks at another follower of Jesus Christ and is able to say "what you're doing is wrong, and you need to stop", and the recipient of that criticism will be able to, with an open mind, evaluate their actions and line it up against what the Bible says. If they are in error, they should change. If they are not, well, God's Word takes prevalence over man's.

In that sort of a situation, one obviously needs to make sure that one's own actions and words are being held to the same standard, so as to not be hypocritical, but using your own faults as an excuse not to lovingly correct someone else's (in the context of brothers and sisters in Christ) is not only unloving, but it's really sort of a cop-out. We have a responsibility to people on this earth. We're all headed in a downward spiral further away from God, and only by keeping each other accountable to God's moral standards and guidelines for our lives will we be able to have credibility when speaking on His behalf.

This is not to say that we are not broken people. Of course we are. And we will undoubtedly make mistakes. But there is a difference between stumbling and falling, and that difference is what defines those that have surrendered to their sin and those that have surrendered to God. Iron sharpens iron, and sometimes that process will hurt, and it will create sparks. But in the end, we will be better for it.

So, really, the love versus justice argument is faulty. Love is justice, and it is grace, mercy, acceptance, truth, and a host of other things. God is love, and so every aspect of God's character is an aspect of the definition of love. The same God who died on the cross for the sins of every man also told the adulteress to go and sin no more. And that was exactly what that woman needed in that situation--Jesus did not condemn her, He did not throw stones, but he did not pull any punches. He spoke the truth in love, and that was probably the turning point in her life.

As a closing thought, the thing we need to be most careful with when trying to be more like Jesus is letting our pride get in the way. This can take many different forms--thinking that we are so good that our sole duty is to tell people how they are wrong without challenging our own brokenness, being so caught up in the theology of what love is or isn't that we lose sight of the people we're supposed to be loving...even using our own weaknesses as an excuse to not try to live up to God's standards for our lives, no matter the cost, can be a form of pride--focusing so much on how screwed up we are that we forget that God redeemed us, and that means we have a responsibility to everyone around us.

In the end, God is who the Bible reveals him to be, and trying to put him into the "mercy" camp or the "justice" camp is neither correct theology nor anything but an unproductive waste of time. God is love, and love is anything that God would do. Follow His example, and don't let your own feelings get mixed up in it, and you'll be fine.

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