Monday, August 10, 2009

What is Love?

Christians for many centuries, over and over, have stated, "God is love." Most famously, St. Augustine said, "Love God and do as you like."

All this sounds so good, so pious, so wonderful, but tragically like so many philosophical and ethical assertions, the devil is in the details:-(--
not the God of Jesus.

The same St. Augustine of the famous "love" quote supported the persecution of other Christians, torture, killing, etc.

Augustine abandoned his common-law wife of 10 years, with plans to marry an aristocratic Roman lady instead.

From his era down through hundreds of years of cruelty, injustice, and slaughter to the present, Christian Churches in the name of "love" have commited all the horrific acts.

Millions of humans have been slaughtered, burned, hanged, shot, bombed, and drowned--
all in the name of Jesus and this religious ideal of Christian "love."

A more recent case is that of Christian soldier Stonewall Jackson and tehologian R. L. Dabney who ordered the death of many thousands during the American Civil War.

They gave all thanks to Jesus Christ and God for their killing success, and yet at the same time, emphasized the importance of love to God and others. Read the excellent and powerful biography, Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a Soldier by John Bowers.

What a great general Jackson was! And what a devout believer and how personable and kind to those of his own kin and group.

But what a ruthless killer of others, and in his killing, he gave all the praise for his successful slaughters to the Christian God! He often prayed, worshiped, and read his Bible in the midst of battles!

Not that Christianity has a corner on these strange demonstrations of "love." When I lived in the Middle East, I visited a restaurant. On the wall was a sign which listed all the characteristics of love in Islam.

Yet, then (and in the past and now) Muslims quote the Qur'an to justify slaughtering civilians.

So it goes.

And check out secular history. Humanists who reject religion for all its horrors, also, often define "love" as a worthy human goal, yet their actions are contrary, too.

On a minor note back during my university days (late 60's), Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlavsky came to the University of Nebraska to do a poetry reading. Allen emphasized that "love" is the answer to the world's problems.

I, a naive, small town kid was impressed,
but an older former beatnik told me, "Don't to be deceived."

Later we learned how deceptive talk of "love" can be. One of the young girls in our group was allegedly left pregnant and alone by Orlavsky who moved on to their next poetry reading.

Young men of other worldviews tried to persuade us that a man could have multiple relationships with women and it was "love." Forget all the tragic results of these "love" affairs.

And since then all manner of distortions continue to be put forth as "loving."

Thinkers have even claimed the intentional bombing of thousands of unarmed civilians, even hundreds of thousands including children is an action of love and justice!

And more and more, acts of euthanasia, abortion, etc. are said to be expressions of love!

Indeed, the devil is in the details. Evil hogs them.

Why is it God always gets left holding the bag of evil?

Enough of the very bad news!

What is the nature of true love--the kind that doesn't result in hell on earth?

The great Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh gives some very good clear examples if you wish a definition which isn't centered in the New Testament. However, since I am a Friend of Jesus, that is where I find my understanding of what love is.


Well, the problem is in the details again though, because most of the killers, slave-owners, etc. of the last 2,000 years have claimed to believe Jesus' words, indeed have done their evil with this verse on their lips, praying to Jesus and reading the Bible as they did their horrific deeds.

So we need to go deeper.

A lawyer questions Jesus--sounds legalistic doesn't it--asking exactly, WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?

Jesus isn't going to be caught in parceling out humankind, the ones who we must love versus the ones we can ignore or even hate such as, say, the Romans or the national traitors or bad sinners. (Remember, in Jewish culture, the men wouldn't even eat with Gentiles!)

Jesus reverses the thinking of the lawyer with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, pointing out we should be loving like a heretic and national enemy and show active compassion and practical deeds of help including personal involvement, the giving of our money and our time.

This is a continuation of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 38-48) where he even contradicts such Jewish heroes as David and says that we should love our enemies.

And so his followers wouldn't get the wrong idea (like so many later would despite his very words), Jesus emphasizes that "loving one enemies" means practical actions on our part.

For instance if an enemy nation conquers you and its soldiers abuse and execute your people and these killers demand you behave as a servant by carrying their military bags for a mile, then you are to offer to carry these enemy killers' things for another extra mile.


Of course, for most of us (like Jesus' disciples who wanted to kill the Romans and call fire down to destroy the Samaritans, etc.)
we need even more directions of what the word "love" actually means and so the N.T. provides many more definitions and examples. The best is 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient,
love is kind
and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
love does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. (NASB)

No doubt these love commands from Spirit of Christ are overwhelming. Probably that is part of the reason why the disciples and Paul felt then that it was impossible to be a true follower of Jesus.

How can we possibly love individuals of the Taliban or the Islamic State!?

The murderers of Boko Haram in Nigeria?

The Saudi Muslim planners of 9-11?

The criminal who stabbed us?

A parent or leader who abused us?

A co-worker who lied about us so that we lost our job?

One way is to remember as Martin Luther King cautioned, we aren't called to "like" such evil doers, but are rather called to show them benevolence in order that they might turn from their evil ways.

This is Jesus' walk, what it means to be Friends. If Jesus loves and died for all of us, how can we do less?

Jesus' call: To love everyone into the realm of God:-)

In the love of Jesus,

Daniel Wilcox


Hystery said...

I prefer to think of this kind of love not as an emotion but as a choice. Those who make us angry, hurt and uncomfortable are still deserving of this kind of agape-love because their essence, if not their behavior, is a manifestation of Divinity. To me, a life lived in imitation of Christ is to live life in answer to "that of God" within each of us-- to continue to make this choice even when other choices are more personally attractive.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Right, at least the Jesus-kind of love begins in choice. When Martin Luther King said he "loved" racists who had firebombed his house nearly killing his wife and children, ones who had murdered civil rights workers...he wasn't saying he had warm feelings toward them or that he liked them and their horrible actions and evil motives.
Rather, he was saying we need to love our enemies as Jesus did when speaking from the cross; we need to love the inner person beneath the sin, the individual in the image of God, the lost one caught in the deception of evil so that she/he might be rescued.

And even here is a word of caution. Our moral choice to love isn't to come out of a sense of "duty" or doctrine. Such love can be condescending if successful or despairing if done by our ego.

Rather, we love from the Divine Center, from out of God's limitless love.

Certainly beyond our natural ability, but not living within the Eternal Essence:-)

Thanks for sharing.


Hystery said...


A good point. Love as duty is not the kind of love I'm talking about since it really isn't love and it can't be sustained since its source is ego-driven and/or guilt.

I think that Love as a choice is possible, for me at least, when I consider people not through my reflections on their behaviors but on my reflections of their Light. I wrote a bit about this in my blog post about Light and Lint. I also find that as a mother, I'm more forgiving of people than I used to be at the gut level because I imagine every person as an infant or small child who deserves great love but whose soul is injured.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello again Hystery,

Maybe I am a "Light and Lint" Quaker;-).
(That is one of my favorite of your blogs.)

Your comment (about being a mother and how the experience has given you a deeper understanding and empathy for others) reminds me of a deeply moving article I once read back in the 80's that spoke similarly of God's empathetic love.

Thanks for sharing,


Kristy Shreve Powers said...

How inspiring and humbling. To me, this is perhaps the central issue of life. Yet my actions are SO far from this Love. It sounds fun, charming, ideal--love your neighbor as yourself--but it is really asking the ultimate of us. When put into action, it is scary and hard. In fact, it's impossible unless we love "from the Divine Center." Anyway, thank you for this post. I will be thinking about it a lot.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Kristy,

I was just was glancing back through my posts and saw your comment from several days ago. Thanks for writing.

On your website, I notice you like Stephen King's The Stand. Did you ever see the miniseries as well? I thought King raised some great spiritual points in the story.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox