“A new command I give you: Love one another…” [John 13:34]
To love one another is perhaps one of the most difficult commands that Jesus has given us. It is difficult because it requires of us capacity for love that we don’t have – only God does.We don’t love the way God loves, because we don’t see people the way He does. The Word tells us that: “… God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” [1 John 4:16]. Love is not just one of the attributes of God, but rather His very nature. Our love for others, on the other hand, is mandated by our carnal desires and is rooted in sin; therefore, it is a derivative of the evil and not an emanation of the character of God. We don’t love – we lust. Our version of love is a reflection of our fundamentally misguided understanding of the world and our less than adequate knowledge of God.
In our inherited strive for perfection we are naturally drawn to physical beauty, thus we erroneously tend to equate physical attraction to love. At a subconscious level we seek someone who is compatible with us and who will not only satisfy our sexual and emotional needs, but will also meet our often unrealized desire for belonging and completeness. Of course, attraction doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual – an object of our sympathy could be anyone that we feel an emotional or intellectual connection to. The very definition of platonic love, for instance, excludes any form of sexualization of the other person as it is in the case of close friendships and different types of family, social, or professional relationships. Even in a platonic relationship a certain level of attraction does exist, although unspoken and in all likelihood never to be acted upon as this would be considered inappropriate and even criminal. But the focus of this commentary is not our love for family members, close friends, or those that we share common interests with. This writing is about “the others”.
It is fair to deduce that our love for others is conditioned upon various factors and a set of primal laws of affection that often remain unrationalized. Unlike the love exhibited by God, our love for others is highly discriminating and selective. Before we can love someone we must like that person first. We can easily overlook any obvious flaws in one’s character; attitude, rationale, or behavior if that individual possesses traits that we’re infatuated by. The physically attractive, intelligent, cultured, successful, caring, kindhearted or witty are much more likable and easy to love than those who are physically unattractive, crude, unsuccessful, indifferent, rude or dull. Of course we won’t admit this openly. Instead we make a determined effort to imitate love for others regardless of who they are or what they look like because we are expected to; because the Bible teaches us that this is the kind of love that is demonstrated by God.
But we are not God for God loves everyone – even those who do not deserve to be alive, let alone to be loved by us. And how can we love the terrorists, the murderers, the rapists, the child molesters and all those who have not only inflicted pain on their victims, but displayed pleasure in that? How can we love those who not only feel no remorse, but are proud of what they have done? I certainly can’t and I doubt there are many who could. This is evidence that we are simply not equipped with the ability to love the way God does. The living Word says: “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same… But love your enemies, and do good… expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” [6:27-35, ESV]
Of all the logic-defying phenomena in the Bible the love of God is conceivably one of the most challenging for me to fathom. I don’t understand why does God love us given how deeply corrupted the human heart is. I suspect that many Christians and some churches that claim to love “others” as God does are not entirely sincere. I can rarely get past the point of being able to tolerate those that I genuinely dislike – to love them the way God loves is beyond even my most committed efforts. Faking love where there is none is as effective as professing to be followers of Christ, yet we don’t have God in us. I refuse to pretend to love the unlovable – I will leave this to God and hope that one day He will bring me to a place where I can learn how to love them without any prejudice.