Friday, September 12, 2014

Fighting Evil vs Living Love

Thinking a bit about the difference between fighting evil and doing good. Doing good is the goal. We need to live a life of love and help others to do so as well. Fighting evil is a means toward that end. Sometime we can get focused on the fight and lose track of the reason for the fight. It is like a political revolution that has a good and just cause but morphs into a terrorist group anyway. The fight becomes what defines them rather than what they are fighting for. 

Christians can live like that. We become so focused on fighting evil in our personal life and/or fighting evil in society that we can forget what is supposed to define us. We can like the fight. We can obey the rules and feel pretty good about it. We can argue about politics or about morality and get wrapped up in that. These are good things to do but there should not be what defines us. 

John 13:34-35 says:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
How are Christians defined in today's society? By going to church. When people talk about Christians they typically use that as a definition. If you go to church at least once a month you are considered Christian. Again, it is a good thing to do. Christians should go to church. Yet that is not what we are supposed to be known for. 

This kind of talk is often used by liberal Christians to argue that we should not talk about social issues and instead just affirm people and maybe help the poor. The trouble is that would not lead anyone to think you are a Christian. Lots of secular people are very affirming and have compassion for the poor. Some atheists argue that you can do this better if you don't connect yourself with any religious teachings. So this can't be the love that will let people know you are a disciple of Jesus. There must be something more.

Let's get back to the text. What is new about this commandment? Didn't the Old Testament talk about loving God and loving your neighbor? The difference is Jesus gives Himself as the model for love. When does he do it? Right after He washed the disciples feet and right before He offers His life on the cross. In the context of these two events He says love others as I have loved. 

St Thomas Aquinas talks about how we can never say what God is but only what He is not. God is infinite and therefore any attempt to describe Him will fail. Love is like that to. We can say a lot about what love is not. The bible has a ton of commandments like that. It is hard to say what love is. You can say something by analogy but it is always imperfect. Yet you can give examples. Jesus is obviously the best example. Your life is going to be very different from His so we need more examples. We have the saints. 

The point is that positive examples of love are always going to be more compelling than rules that warn us against unlovely things. That is what we are called to. Obey the rules. Make the arguments. Just know that none of that will really convince people you are a disciple of Jesus. What will really convince them is when your life reminds people of Jesus washing His disciples feet. When your life reminds them of the cross.

What does it look like? Washing feet is something we should do inside the church. We should not be about power or status. We should want to serve each other. Do we? To some extent. Yet this willingness of everyone to serve should be shocking to people outside the church. Is it? I don't think so. 

The cross is something that was inflicted on Jesus by His enemies. How did He make enemies? Holy people always make enemies. Yet he was not known for his fights with the Pharisees. He was known for His teaching and His miracles. Is that what Christians are known for today? Why not? Has our teaching been so watered down so it no longer creates controversy and no longer changes people in miraculous ways? Sometimes. The gospel still shocks people and still heals people but that is not a regular experience for most Christians.

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