Jesus’s Message Of Love Is The Opposite Of Current Cultural Norms
Love is the central virtue of Christianity, indeed, of humanity. One does not have to be a believer to know that this is true. Love is the driving force of life. It is the affirming, optimistic attitude of “yes” that defines the meaning an purpose of life. Love is shown in two very distinct and powerful ways.
First, for Christians all of creation, every inanimate object, every insect and animal, every plant and tree, and every human being was created in love. The great seas, the mighty mountains, the rivers in their channels and the deepest canyons, were all the objects of a loving mind. But most of all the human being, created in the image and likeness of God is the direct object of that love that rises from the infinite heart of God. It is always directed outward toward the object of its affection. It never takes, it only gives. It affirms and creates, never destroys. It supports, defends, cares for and sacrifices for the other. It is never selfish, never limited. It demands no cost, is always freely given. It is never selfish, is always communal. It desires the best for the other, never demanding a quid pro quo.
The love of God is unconditional and eternal. Even though mankind, from the beginning to the present moment, turned away from God, his love was not diminished for us. Indeed, paradoxically, it grew even greater. Even while we were in the midst of our sins he came among us, to show us how far God’s love extends by bearing our whole sinful burden on his back, sacrificing everything, including his very life, for us. He walked our path. He is present to us when we feel we can go no further. He showed us how we can turn again toward that freely given gift of love that is our natural inheritance.
During his life among us, Jesus showed us what that love looks like, what it does, and then he commanded us to do the same for one another. “My commandment to you is to love one another; there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for your friends.”
Because all of us are mistake makers, we are all at one time or another, guilty of injuring one another in word or in deed. We wound, or destroy the love that we have for one another breaking the very bonds we most desire and need. We part from one another and great empty spaces grow between us. In our smallness we rage against the injustices that others bring to bear upon us, often not recognizing the injustices that we ourselves perpetrate on others.
Here is the other face of love, then. There is only one thing that can heal the rifts that grow between us when we sin against each other, it is the supreme and selfless act of love we know as forgiveness. Only forgiveness, true, sincere and generous, can heal those wounds. And forgiveness can not arise out of anything but love.
Let me use an analogy here. In the human heart there is a section called the pacemaker. It is where the electrical charge is produced that causes that powerful muscle to contract and pump blood out into the body and to bring it back again to exchange oxygen with carbon dioxide. If that pacemaker fails, the person dies. The love that we have for others has a pacemaker too, without which love cannot survive. That pacemaker is forgiveness. If we cannot find love sufficient enough within us to forgive the wounds that others have given us in word or deed, then the relationship we had cannot survive. It will die as surely as the human heart will if its pacemaker fails.
Jesus’ death on the cross was the supreme act of love. It required the total giving out of everything so that our relationship with God could be reconciled, rebuilt, restored. Forgiveness is love’s pacemaker. It was required for our relationship with God, and it is so often required in our relationships with those whom we love in this life.
Our culture teaches us many false ideas about love. Disney tells us in everyone of its movies for children, that when you “fall in love” with someone and get married, you will “live happily ever after.” Hallmark cards tell us “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Hollywood tells us that love is a feeling, a very powerful feeling attached to physical pleasures and when those pleasures are no longer there, love is no longer there.
Jesus’ message is in opposition to every one of these ideas. Jesus’ example of love is realistic. It is mature. It is not deterred by injury, nor is it merely a physical expression alone. It recognizes that we fall short of our ideals, that though we fall we can recover from our mistakes and grow. It shows that love endures even through the hard times, that it is stronger than any injury. Most importantly he shows us that love, real love, is a feeling AND a willingness to work hard at this thing called relationships. Love is manifested in actions, not just passive feelings. “Love is patient and kind…” (1 Corinthians: 13)
Love is the source of our being and without it all is lost. God is love. With God in our lives we too can become co-creators with the Father, co-saviors with the Son, and co-lovers with the Holy Spirit. This is, indeed, what “makes the world go ’round.