Friday, August 7, 2009

The Love We All Need

Compassionate love is the axis of the Christian moral revolution and the only sign ever given by Jesus by which a disciple would be recognized.
--Brennan Manning "Ragamuffin Gospel"

When I read this statement recently it struck a deep and resounding chord in my heart. Since then my mind has been mulling over the phrase "axis of the...revolution" trying to grasp its profound implications. It makes me think of a bike wheel which revolves around its axle, the wheel's center-point. The Christian moral revolution then is centered around this idea of compassionate love. Love is essential for the movement have traction and build momentum.

Sadly love has become an abstraction in our culture, a euphemism for sexual intercourse, and a misnomer for emotion. None of these modern definitions of love grasp the revolutionary lifestyle of love that Jesus was calling His disciples to. He tells them to "love each other like He's loved them". Jesus sets the standard for love among His disciples through His own actions. Since the time of Jesus' time on earth people have called His love the Gospel or "Good News". It was fresh, original, and above all GOOD! Being a disciple of Jesus, how do I love others like He has loved me and make my love Good News to them? The simple answer is to follow His example.

I appreciate Manning using the adjective compassionate in the quote above because it unfolds one amazing aspect of the depth of Jesus' love for me and all human beings. In his account of Jesus' life the disciple Matthew recounts a conversation Jesus had with the religious bourgeois of the time in which Jesus tells them to learn the meaning of the prophet Hosea's words "the Lord desires compassion not sacrifice". Again Christ, calls people to a standard which He has set through His own actions and here He is calling people to compassionate love. The Greek word Matthew used here was eleos a word more commonly translated into English as "mercy". In W.E. Vine's New Testament dictionary eleos is defined as "an outward manifestation of pity toward an offender and assumes need on the part of the recipient and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of the person who shows it".

Coming back to my question: how can I make my love Good News? What makes love the distinguishing mark of Christians in a world of philanthropists like Gandhi and Princess Diana (both of whom I have an amazing amount of respect for)? If I'm honest with myself I have to admit that I am wholly inadequate to compassionately love people at the level that they truly need. My sparse and tarnished resources are not sufficient to consistently fulfill the needs and desires of anyone; much less start a "moral revolution".

Christian love is unique in the fact that it doesn't rely on the resources of Christians themselves but on an outside source: Yaweh whose resources cannot be exhausted. The only reason Christians can give from God's storehouse of love is because they have recieved love from the same place. In other words they can love only because He has loved them first. Christian's love for others is an unavoidable result of God's love for them.

I've come to the conclusion that theories are fairly easy to develop and agree with but are worthless without their application. Love, compassionate love, fueled by God's love for me is extremely hard to put into practice. When the love I do give is abused the last thing I want to be is loving and merciful (remember compassion shown to an offender?). When a girlfriend hurts me, a roommate doesn't do his dishes, or when a friend borrows money from me and doesn't repay me I want to demand justice, claim my rights, and deal out retribution. Once again, knowing is one thing and doing is another, knowledge isn't practice. A wheel accomplishes nothing and collects dust unless it spins around its axis and starts to move. Likewise the lives of Jesus followers will be unfulfilling, hypocritical, and irrelevant until everything revolves around compassionate love for others that relies 100% on the love God has for us.

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