Thursday, May 19, 2016
To the Christians: Is Love Really All You Need?
If you had a daughter who was anorexic, what would you do? Would you let her starve herself to death? Or would you do absolutely anything to get her healthy again, even if it meant hospitalizing her against her will?
If you had a suicidal friend, would you stand by and watch while he jumped? Would you think, "Well, I guess this is what he wants, so it must be the best choice for him?" Or would you wrestle him to the ground if you had to?
What does it mean to love?
Society tells us that love means unconditional acceptance. Love means tolerance, listening, empathy. And it means never telling anyone they are wrong.
Our culture has constructed a new moral law: Treat others as they want to be treated. There's even a name for it: The Platinum Rule--because it is said to be superior to the Golden Rule.
Treat others as they want to be treated. Is that love?
But how far does that go? Do we treat the anorexic or suicidal person the way they want to be treated? It's obvious that we do not. But one could argue that such people are mentally ill. Yet even our categories of mental illness are changing on a daily basis.
My last post was an apology to non-Christians for our often stark absence of love. I've seen it way too often--on the internet, in our priorities, in how we choose to present ourselves to the world. But the tricky part is that Christians must define love according to the Bible, not according to our culture.
When Jesus got down in the dirt with the adulterous woman, he stopped those trying to punish her, and instead treated her with kindness and compassion. But he didn't end there. Go and sin no more, he told her.
And that's where Christians tend to swing between two sides of the pendulum. They choose the compassion, or they choose the judgment. Yet to follow in Jesus' steps, we must have both.
As society continues its plunge into relativism and obsession with feelings, Christians will be more and more despised for our insistence that God's standard is the best. Our new reputation as "haters" is difficult to swallow, especially since American Christians have long since enjoyed the reputation as "nice" and "respectable." It's hard to give that up. The temptation will be to retreat into a cotton candy version of love, which claims that we all know what's best for ourselves so the best way to love is to never criticize another's choices.
If we live according to a biblical worldview, then we know that every person on earth is mentally ill. We might not be anorexic or suicidal, but we all have skewed self-perceptions of ourselves or reality. So which is more loving--to treat people the way they want to be treated and allow them to self-destruct, or to do everything we can to stop them in their tracks?
I believe that an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing God not only exists, but communicates with us. I believe that he has set a moral standard for all people, that none of us can meet that standard, but that he will hold us accountable for it. I believe in a literal heaven and hell. I believe that Jesus' death and resurrection opened the only way for me to know God and one day live with God.
If I really, truly believe this, and would stake my life on it, then would it be loving for me to shut up and keep it private? Would it be loving for me to tell people that they can live their lives any way they choose and God will be okay with it? Let us not forget that mercy and justice met at the cross. We cannot preach the cross without including both. Anything less is to cheapen Jesus' sacrifice.
So what is love? If I am certain the Bible is true, if I am confident that it is life-giving, life-transforming, and the greatest treasure on earth, do I let the people around me careen off a cliff without warning them?
The problem is that for far too long, the church has spewed out judgment without compassion. Justice without mercy. Many times, we have rightly earned the reputation of being hateful. But in our quest to love, let's make sure that we define it correctly. If we are going to be despised, let's make sure it's for the right reasons.
How does the Bible define love? Love is patient and kind. Love is sacrificial. Love initiates relationships. Love is the first person to help the neighbor in crisis. Love rearranges her schedule to help the friend. Love opens her arms to the refugee, the foster child, the single mom, the transgender teen. Love is hospitable; love is generous with her time, her talents, her finances. Love humbly remembers that she too is recovering from mental illness. She gets down in the dirt with those who are hurting. But when she does,
Love also speaks the Truth.
As we navigate these culturally tricky times, may I strongly encourage every thinking Christian (or non-Christian) to read Saving Leonardo (at least the first half) and Finding Truth by Nancy Pearcey. If you are seeking tools to thoughtfully, winsomely engage others in rational discussion about our changing culture, these are incredible resources. They will change your thinking and your life.