Friday, November 12, 2010

What Kind of Love Is This?

The adage Jesus quotes in Mt. 5:43, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy," is actually not found in Old Testament law. More specifically, the first half is found but not the second. "Hate your enemy" must have been added by some rabbi who confused hatred of sin with hatred of sinners.

No question that the two are easy to confuse when the sinners are our enemies--those who deliberately sin directly against us, or against those we care about, or against the principles we believe in, or against our fellow Christians. Of course, sometimes those who sin against us are fellow Christians, or others we genuinely loved. There is no deeper wound than to consider someone a close friend, even to make a formal commitment of loyalty--and then to have that person not only selfishly and deliberately do something s/he knows will hurt us, but to respond to our pain with indifference or even mockery. Human nature reacts to such betrayal with either despair or extreme anger. The famous quip, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," was in its original version (by William Congreve) paired with the line "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned." How true. We can hate our friends-turned-enemies with a hatred that rivals the worst blood feuds of human history.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8b). Those of us well-versed in Scripture tend to read Rom. 5:6-11 and the Crucifixion accounts with a familiarity tainted by contempt, as if the Atonement were a simple matter of a rich friend's donating a bit of his wealth to pay a poorer friend's debt. Even if we appreciate the extreme physical agony involved in death by crucifixion, we often fail to consider the full depth of the compassion involved, given whom all this was for. It wasn't simply that the human race didn't deserve redemption; in a very real sense, we didn't even want it. The whole Bible--the whole of human history--is a record of people willingly accepting God's blessings but scorning His Lordship, and then whining "I deserve better!" whenever He fails to give us what we want when we want it. That's why "works religion" and "law-of-attraction prayer" are so popular even among Christians; they offer a God Who makes things easy for us, Who really lets us be the boss. They promise a Heaven that starts right now not only in closeness to God, but in complete freedom from want or disappointment. 

It wasn't just His sworn enemies who spat on Christ as He endured crucifixion. We, His own people, do it every time we get angry at God or ignore (or rationalize away) His commands. It was for us, too, that He prayed, "Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34a) from the Cross.

It's us for whose sins He still intercedes today, with a patience that surpasses human understanding. 

A simple thing enough, to love
The generous and kind—
The ones who smile and give and share,
And keep your needs in mind.
But who could love the selfish ones
With ever-tight-clenched fists?
To love the grasping, bitter soul—
What kind of love is this?

A simple thing enough, to love
The ones with love for you
The ones with whom you share your joy,
The loyal and the true.
But who could love the ones who scorn,
Who spit and curse and hiss?
To love the ones with hate for you—
What kind of love is this?

A simple thing enough, to love
The ones who feel your pain—
The ones who rush to comfort you
In times of grief and strain.
But who could love those spiteful ones
For whom your pain is bliss?
To love the ones who crush your heart—
What kind of love is this?

And we, who so refuse to love,
And turn away from right,
Who scorn the God Who gave us life
And choose the ways of night,
We are the ones who spat on Him,
Who broke His heart. Know this:
We hated Him—He died for us.
That kind of love... was His!

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