I logged onto Facebook today and I can’t decide what to be most upset about— what’s happening in the world or what’s happening in our social media posts.
I grieve our lostness in this world.
Lost under the weight of arguments.
Lost in the justifications.
Lost to kindness.
Lost from each other.
Over the years, in our home, there have been moments when my children have been rude to one another. The ensuing conversation often has gone like this:
“What you said was very mean, and is an unacceptable way to treat another person,” I’ve said.
“But I wasn’t trying to be mean,” the child has always said.
“Were you trying to be kind? Were you trying to be loving?” I have responded.
“Um… no. I wasn’t,” the child always admits.
The argument about who was right or wrong generally dies at that point.
Love requires intentionality, whereas we fall quite easily into the disrespectful and harsh treatment of others.
I am intimately acquainted with this problem because I have been unkind and unloving many times when I was trying to make a point, garner a laugh, or fight for something I believed to be important. My pride has blinded me to the way the world has offered me more comfort and power than I have deserved, and I have lapped privileges up like a thirsty wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I have sinned the same way my children have because we share a bloodline of self-obsession that flows all the way back to an ancient tree and a forbidden fruit that no one really meant to eat. All throughout history, humankind has hoped to be good and fair people with mostly golden intentions, while simultaneously starving for something that could make them more like God. Can this fruit of education help me to know everything I will ever need to know? Can this fruit of power make me so strong I will never feel weak again? Can this fruit of wealth save me from ever needing to be saved again? Can the fruit of privilege give me the power to control my circumstances so I will never be victimized?
Dish it up, sweet serpent friend.
And yet, it is a fascinating and often-forgotten truth that the Bible draws a direct line from our love for one another to our ability to love and obey God himself (1 John 5:2). Jesus actually commanded us to love one another (John 13:34). As Christians, we are supposed to know that it is impossible to love God if we can’t find a way to love other people (1 John 4:20).
None of us intends to be cruel or mean. And yet, good Bible interpretation tells us that every obedient child of God is loving toward others, and no unloving person is submitted to the authority God of all things.
But people are too sensitive, you say.
Maybe they are.
They take everything so personally, you tell me.
Perhaps they do. But maybe this is all more personal than we realize.
After all, we have been personally commanded by the Son of God to love them. Why is it so hard for us to obey this command, though?
When I look out into the world, I see our selfishness, racism, cynicism, classism, sexism, and general disinterest in caring for others all revealing what God knows is true: We are all a people in need of personal rescue again and again in this life.
We are so busy figuring out who is right and who is wrong that we have forgotten the rightest thing we can do is to obey God and love people. Unfortunately, loving people is confusing because it involves dropping our stones and personally bearing the consequences of our own sin. Love means confessing our own error without demanding the other side do the same. Loving others strangely begins in a quiet place where God asks us to love him most of all by bowing our knee to his supremacy in our own personal lives.
Maybe we should spend some time reading God’s word before we read the news. Maybe we should begin our days begging God to redeem our nation before we point fingers at all the people ruining it. Certainly we should wonder what loving our enemies ought to look like today, given that Jesus died for us when we were still enemies of God.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m tired this morning. Maybe I’m weary of the arguments, the fear, the intense emotions of it all. Maybe I’m completely wrong about all of us and I should just shush.
But I want to move beyond the lament.
I want to see what’s on the other side of the grief and the lostness.
I’m ready for the next thing. I’m ready for the repenting. I want to confess my sin and run home to my Father’s house. I have been selfish and blind every day of my life in a million ways. I’ve wanted my share of the inheritance and I haven’t paid much attention to what it cost other people for me to take what is rightfully mine by law. I’ve wanted to stay safely tucked away in my father’s house and not be bothered with going out to look for my irresponsible, lost brothers and sisters. I haven’t meant to be rude or unkind, and yet, I know that isn’t the point.
The point is, that it is so easy to forget how to live in communion here in this world full of brokenness.
Only once we turn back toward him can we see our Father running out to meet us as we stagger homeward. He is always running to us. The strangest part of it all is that now I’m realizing that when we run toward the people he commanded us to love, we are running toward him.
Loving God and others is a package deal; a true bundle; a BOGO. This seems like Sunday School 101, and yet, if we bring up political candidates, national security, theological debates regarding gender and sex, or any host of other polarizing topics we lose our grasp on the elementary truth of love and we suddenly just want our side to win– because we really believe our answer would make the world a better place.
But all sides of every argument believe that. We can’t all be right, and so we marginalize their arguments and deride their intentions. Love believes the best, but we feel forced to believe the worst about anyone who disagrees with us.
Can you see how lost we are? How lost we always have been?
We may be right. We may be wrong. If we are honest about most of it, we may never know for sure here on this earth who sees things exactly the way God sees them.
But we are all loved, right where we are, stones in hand and sin at our feet.
Go and sin no more, Jesus was fond of saying. Go and love them as I have loved you, God has asked of us.
Only when we obey can the lostness end and the hunger be sated by God’s peace. Only then can we step beyond the grief and truly rejoice.
Then we’ll know what it means to be loved. I want to get there, don’t you?
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
—Philippians 4:4-9 (CSV)