Things That Separate Us From God
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
“We cannot separate love for God from love for man. We acknowledge God easily, but our brother? Those with whom we do not identify in his background, education, race, complexion? We could not have imagined that love for God could be so hard.” Edith Stein
These words come from a Jewish woman who converted to Catholicism and was in a cloistered nunnery when the Nazi SS Troops arrested her and sent her to a concentration camp where she would later die. They are very simple and very clear words, but they are words that make us uncomfortable with guilt too. She is speaking the truth to us here, and truth is often painful.
As Christians, our lives are moved by and encouraged by our love for God. We know why we love God, and we are filled with contentment when we give ourselves over to that love. But we are challenged by Edith Stein’s words here to understand that our love for God, if it is not translated into an equal love for our fellow man, is distorted, incomplete or even, ironically, divisive.
If our love for others is based only on their shared background with ourselves, like whether they are educated or not, or whether they are of similar race, or creed, then our love for God is not fully true. If, as we believe, God made all of us, in every place, in every language, in every race, in every ability, then our love for God must also reveal itself in our love for all of humankind. If, as we believe, we are all made in the image and likeness of God, then we are all brothers and sisters, because we are all sons and daughters of God.
In the Old Testament, we see several “sin stories” that reveal all the sins we have fallen into as a result of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. The first of these is the story of Cain killing Abel. A brother killing his brother. This is not to be solely understood as the sin of fratricide, but as a metaphor for all of humankind. When we kill a person, or “kill” their reputation by our gossip, or lies, or “kill” their opportunities to fulfill their humanity by denying them those opportunities, simply because of their race or any external, accidental difference, we are as guilty as Cain in his killing of Abel. If our love for our brother and sister is limited by external differences of wealth, skin color, language, religious, or cultural differences, then we are not lovers of the God who made them, just as He made us.
The whole of human history is scarred with this distortion of love, isn’t it. Who among us cannot point to some historical events where human beings have injured, captured, enslaved, tortured and killed some other human beings simply because they were different than us, and even done so “in the name of God.” Every time in history, every nation, and every people on earth have been guilty of these kinds of things, and most have also been victims of this lack of love. None are free of the potential guilt of Cain’s sin.
But God our Father, the Creator of all that is truly good, breathes His own nature into us, giving each of us the miracle of life, at the moment of our conception, in our mother’s womb. Each and every one of us, then, is directly related to that one Father. Until our love for our Father becomes so complete that we can see Him in all we meet, no matter what they look like; until we can see them as our true brothers and sisters, we will continue to suffer the consequences of our inability to love as Jesus loves in this world.
If we look honestly into our own souls, and if we see any hint of prejudice, any breath of intolerance for any of our brothers and sisters, we can offer it up to God to be healed, so that our love for He-Who-Is-Love can be made manifest in our love for all of God’s children, yes, even those who call themselves our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies. But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
Edith Stein understands how hard this can be. She understands it in the context of her own life. Because the Nazis and the German people themselves, by their silence, their indifference, or their fears of reprisal, allowed themselves to rationalize the “Final Solution,” Edith Stein and six million other Jews, and five million others who did not fit into the Nazi view of acceptability, were sacrificed on the fires of hatred and intolerance. She knew it well enough to say, “We could not have imagined that love for God could be so hard.”
Yes, it is hard to turn away from our prejudices, but the irony is that when we do, we become free from their limitations. It is then that our love for others is the product of our love for God. In loving others as God loves us, we become more fully human, in other words, we become what we were made to be, daughters and sons of the same Father, the God of infinite, compassionate, and unconditional love. It is hard, but if the scriptures are truly the word of God, as we know and believe, then we can not only love like this, but we must love like this in order to be Gods true sons and daughters. “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)