Uncompromising Love

Yesterday afternoon, I was completely caught off guard by the blasts that occurred in Boston. I had been running around town and for once I wasn’t paying any attention to the internet (which is extremely rare for me). It wasn’t until a conversation with my husband on the phone that he mentioned everything that was going on in Boston that I discovered what had happened. Since then, I, like many people, have had the situation weighing on me, and I have been full of questions and thoughts:

Who is responsible?

Why would they do this?

Please don’t let it be a Muslim person/group responsible.

What kind of further violence will be fueled from this?

Please, God, give comfort to those who are grieving and injured.

And so, my mind jumps back and forth from fears to prayers to uncertainties to anger. Why do things like this continue to happen? Violence escalates, fear abounds, and we continue to confirm that the world seems to be an increasingly messed up and destructive place. I don’t have any wisdom to offer in the face of such violence which is only a microcosm of violence that exists every day around the world, but I do have two words to offer. The first word is hopeful. The second word is hard.

In the midst of violence and chaos, it is extremely easy to become fearful and angry. It is easy to succumb to a kind of nihilism or hopelessness for the world. The news makes this even easier because there is so much focus on the death and destruction, and we feed on it like an addiction. It becomes easy to believe that there is evil out there that is so huge and looming that the world will eventually have no choice but to succumb to it.

This is a lie.

Yes, there is evil. Yes, there is destruction. Yes, there is violence. But there is also goodness. There is sacrifice. There is love. There are always people helping in moments of crisis. There are always people who put aside concern for themselves to come to the aid of others. Every so often, when there is a crisis that occurs, I see this picture and quote from Mr. Rogers make multiple appearances on my Facebook newsfeed:

There are still so many helpers– so many caring people in the world. So the first word is this: evil exists, but goodness exists as well. Goodness exists within many, and one of the ways that this goodness demonstrates itself is through finding ways to serve and offer hope in the midst of crisis. Perhaps we may call this goodness a manifestation of the “image of God.” Every place that there is an act of love, of mercy, of aid, we catch glimpses of that divine image in which we were created as human beings.

Yesterday evening, I caught a glimpse of this image of God as nine members of our church gathered to begin a journey towards becoming volunteer hospital chaplains, in order to serve God and to act as witnesses to God’s love and presence to those going through the crisis of illness and death. Yes, the divine image does exist within human beings!

But let’s not leave this first word centered on ourselves. Ultimately, we have the hope that can only come from God: “What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” (John 1:4-5, CEB). If we believe these words, then no amount of violence, no amount of hatred, and no amount of destruction can overcome the light of Jesus Christ who is redeeming the world. Redemption is a messy, violent process. The death of our Lord on the cross testifies to this reality. Even so, the darkness of the crucifixion does not overcome the triumph of Easter. Acts of terror do not, will not, cannot, triumph over the reality that in the end, God’s love wins. Remember: Sunday is coming!

And now, the second word. The hard word. The word that I have been putting off because I don’t want to have to listen to it. Once again, after many injured and at least three dead in Boston, we find ourselves facing a currently unknown enemy. Many are speculating about who that enemy is, but regardless, many are feeling hatred and anger towards the ones who so easily take such actions that inflict terror in us all.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends the rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward to you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, CEB)

As I continue to re-read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, he reminds us of a particularly difficult truth as he writes on that passage from Matthew: “Love is defined in uncompromising terms as the love of our enemies.” This is not some vague or abstract ideal. “The only way to overcome our enemy is by loving him.” My temptation is to rationalize that assertion out of existence. “Surely that can’t be referring to the enemy that we face today! Surely this doesn’t apply to me and the current situation we find ourselves in!” Bonhoeffer continues on:

To the natural man, the very notion of loving his enemies is an intolerable offence, and quite beyond his capacity: it cuts right across his ideas of good and evil. More important still, to man under the law, the idea of loving his enemies is clean contrary to the law of God, which requires men to sever all connection with their enemies and to pass judgment on them. Jesus, however, takes the law of God in his own hands and expounds its true meaning. The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them… Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need of love.

I hate these words. I don’t want to love the people who have committed this horrible act. I don’t want to pray for them. I don’t even know how to begin to love my enemy, but even more, I don’t want to! And yet, Jesus’ words are still there: “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”

I wrestle with these words. I wrestle with this truth. How does love do anything? How can love possibly counter the act that has been committed? Jesus’ command is playing over again and again in my mind, and Bonhoeffer’s words continue to haunt me. I leave you with more of his words to ponder with me:

How then does love conquer? By asking now how the enemy treats her but only how Jesus treated her. The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified. The more we are driven along this road, the more certain is the victory of love over the enemy’s hated. For then it is not the disciple’s own love, but the love of Jesus Christ alone, who for the sake of his enemies went to the cross and prayed for them as he hung there. In the face of the cross the disciples realized that they too were his enemies, and that he had overcome them by his love. It is this that opens the disciple’s eyes, and enables him to see his enemy as a brother. He knows that he owes his very life to One, who though he was his enemy, treated him as a brother and accepted him, who made him his neighbor, and drew him into fellowship with himself. The disciple can now perceive that even his enemy is the object of God’s love, and that he stands like himself beneath the cross of Christ.

Uncompromising love places us all at the foot of the cross. Uncompromising love is what we are called to as disciples of Jesus. As I continue to wrestle with what this means, I invite you to do the same.