Liking or Loving — What is a Christian To Do?*

Where did Jesus say that we are to like our neighbor?

Fortunately, I have neighbors I like and who, presumably, like me,
but in Christian terms, that’s all beside the point.

What really counts is loving the neighbors you don’t like and, yes,
I have some of those, too.

And who’s a neighbor? People in the neighborhood? Within geographical
proximity? How about two neighborhoods over? How about in the next county,
state, nation? Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility, so, in
that sense, the world is my neighborhood.

The caveat is that it is actually, pretty easy to get along with people
at a distance, because we don’t have to deal with their idiosyncrasies
often or at all. They are distant neighbors and I am naively free to
idealize how much I would get along with them and how much I would care
for them and how much I would be willing to help them if the need arose.

The real rub is the couple across the street, down the road, up the avenue who…
well, I won’t go into details.

So, what do I have to do in relation to them? Like them and their behavior? No.
Get along as far as it depends on me, I suppose, but actually love them, not
in some, schlocky, sentimental way, which, by the way, isn’t love. It’s schlocky
sentimentality.

I’m supposed to love them as in an action verb, do what I can for them,
help them, care for them in an agape way — a self-sacrificial way as
the need may present itself, put their concerns and needs ahead of mine.
Not imposing myself, of course. There is nothing worse than the imposition of
care. For instance, after my late wife died, there was one person who
needed desperately to reach out and express concern for me, not for me,
but for herself and her image of herself as a compassionate caregiver.
It was really irritating, but I just let it happen (in part because I
just didn’t have the energy to object) and eventually the communication
came to an end.

Perhaps, the best way to love the people we don’t like is simply to leave
them alone until a need arises that requires action on our part to help
them in their need whatever that need may be.

I’ll give you one example as a hypothetical: there are two people
in the neighborhood who don’t get along. One needed a bone marrow
transplant. The other offered his marrow. He was tested, there was a
match and the procedure, a less than pleasant one, and, in fact,
a potentially dangerous one for the donor, was performed. The procedure
was a success and the patient lived. Afterward, they still may
not like each other very much, although, I can’t believe there
wouldn’t be some kind of affection or at least appreciation developed,
but that, too, is beside the point.

The donor loved his neighbor and, in the end, that’s what counts.

Now, let’s take that beyond one to one to a systemic level —
political level, societal level, cultural level, economic level.
How do we treat all within our country? Do our laws defend all?
Do our economic policies aid all, lift all, prosper all?

As a country, how do we view other countries, societies, cultures?
How do we love others? How do we show compassion? Perhaps
living a philosophy of enlightened self-interest is the most
we can muster most of the time and that’s pretty good, but
what about when more than that is called for? Can we act
in ways that reveal to others that we genuinely care and are
willing to act in sacrificial ways for them. Does our foreign
aid go to the neediest countries, for instance?

What about care and compassion for the very creation, the
earth? Are we loving the environment? Are we restraining
ourselves and our wants and our lifestyle for the sake of
preserving nature? Do our policies exploit or enhance creation?

There are those who say that Christian compassion is limited
to personal, one-on-one relationships but is not applicable or
practical beyond that. I’m not advocating indoctrination,
rather, common humanitarian compassion evidencing itself in
international relations. Living out of genuine concern for the
welfare of others rather than out of fear of the other.

I’m not advocating naiveté regarding political realities,
but acting in ways toward others as we would like to be
treated, caring for those in need as we would want to be
cared for in our need.

Jimmy Carter, thirty-nine years ago, delivered a wake-up
call to the nation (https://www.salon.com/2018/07/15/jimmy-carter-reflects-on-a-lifetime-under-trump-the-government-is-worse-than-it-has-been-before/).
He spoke of how our values are being eroded in selfishness, greed
and consumption. Today, he says it is worse than it was when
he delivered that truthful assessment on our culture. Jimmy Carter
lives out his Christian compassion on a personal
level, but he advocates for systems which reflect
the values of compassion, selflessness and care.

We don’t have to like everybody, but, for those of
us who seek to follow Jesus, we do have to love
everyone.

*idea from a Frederick Buechner meditation on love

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One thought on “Liking or Loving — What is a Christian To Do?*

  1. A fine piece on the realities of love … I, too, read Buechner this morning … and some years ago, I recall a piece by Michael Quoist – when he let God in, the world came tumbling in, too … to love God is to be confronted with the world God so loves … I like Buechner’s emphasis that love is not a sentiment, though it may well be, but principally and powerfully and ethic.

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