At church this morning, the pastor preached about the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The pastor was saying that love for neighbor is not about how we feel about our neighbor, and how our neighbor feels about us; rather, it is about us showing mercy and being sensitive to the needs around us.
I like that message, since I have difficulty having warm, fuzzy, affectionate feelings towards a lot of people; plus, there are people who don’t like me. But do I think that message is Scriptural? Allow me to reflect.
On the one hand, I do think that God wants for our love to touch us on an emotional level. Romans 12:10 states: “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (KJV). I Peter 1:22 refers to loving others fervently with a pure heart. I also think of I Corinthians 13:3, which states that, if I give all of my goods to feed the poor but have not love, it profits me nothing. Is love simply a matter of giving things to people who need help, even if I may have hostile feelings towards certain people? If so, then why does Paul distinguish giving one’s goods to the poor from love?
On the other hand, can we truly say that Jesus and the prophets liked the people who were persecuting them or putting them to death? I have my doubts. Jesus does not seem to like some of the Pharisees in Matthew 23! Maybe Jesus appreciated certain human aspects to them, for Jesus did eat with the Pharisees, but there were things about some of them that made him angry. Jesus may not have liked them, at least not entirely, but he still did love them. He wanted them to repent (Luke 7:30; cp. Luke 13:34), and he asked God to forgive the people who were putting him to death (Luke 23:34).
I should also note Romans 12:19-20: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head” (KJV). This passage does seem to divorce feeling from action: you may have hostile feelings towards your enemy, but you should trust God to execute vengeance, while still doing good to your enemy. There is outward love there, but there is still an inner desire for vengeance.
During the children’s part of the service, the pastor was talking about loving people who are different for us, for everyone is made by God. As the pastor said, children often need to remind adults of this! I hear him there!
I noticed in hearing Luke 10:25-37 that the discussion in which Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan concerned how to inherit eternal life. How, according to Jesus, does one inherit eternal life? In accordance with the law, one loves God and loves one’s neighbor. Jesus said, “This do, and thou shalt live.” That sounds different from what a lot of evangelical Christians say: you cannot get eternal life by obeying the law or doing good works, for you need to accept God’s free gift of salvation by trusting Jesus Christ as Savior. At the same time, the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, the Book of Acts, contains the statement that “by [Jesus] all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39 KJV). Obviously, in that passage in Acts, justification cannot come through the law of Moses; we need Christ.
If that’s true, though, why didn’t Christ mention it to the lawyer who asked him how to inherit eternal life? Why did Christ only mention love of God and neighbor? I think back to a video I watched of Billy Graham talking with Woody Allen. Graham was telling Allen that God loves him and expects Allen to live up to a standard, and, if Allen falls short, he needs redemption. That puzzled me, a bit. IF Allen falls short? There is no “if” about it, for we are all sinners who fall short (Romans 3)! We all need redemption! Another blogger told me, however, that he actually liked Graham’s approach because Graham was setting up an ethical context. That, I think, is what Jesus was doing: he was setting up an ethical context. And, in the course of becoming oriented to that ethical context and coming to appreciate what God and the Kingdom of God are all about, we find that we fall short, that we not only transgress, but that our attitudes often go in the opposite direction from what God wants. Then, we conclude that we need redemption.
I still have difficulty feeling affection towards certain people. As I was walking to church, I was thinking of people whom I did not like, and I was contemplating what was good about them. That is not exactly unconditional love, or loving on the basis of Christ as opposed to loving on the basis of what I like about people. But I needed to do that in order to develop some affection towards them; and maybe honoring what is good about them actually loves them as people, for what makes them tick personally, as opposed to loving them in conformity to some standard out there. There is still a place for loving out of conformity to a standard, though.
I was also thinking of something that I read on a Christian blog a while back, but I cannot find the post. The blogger was mockingly paraphrasing I Corinthians 13 in criticizing the attitudes of evangelicals: “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels but have not love, relax, I am saved by faith, anyway!” The blogger was criticizing Christian jerks who use grace as a free pass, as a way to excuse themselves from loving others.
I need free grace, though. I need that “Relax, I am saved by faith, anyway.” I need to know that I am good with God, on good days and on bad days—-on days when every offense that people have committed against me comes rapid-fire into my mind, one after the other, and on days when I am placid and feel good about God and my fellow human beings. It is hard for me to give love, if I am unsure that I am actually receiving it from God. Does that approach give a pass to Christian jerks, allowing them to believes that they are saved by grace even when they treat others like dirt? Part of me wonders, “So what if it does?” Even the Christian jerk needs grace, as I do!