He opened his arms of love upon the cross
And made for all the perfect sacrifice of sin.
It was my first brush with real hatred.
We had stopped at an international supermarket to pick up some plantains on the other side of Cambridge. Osvaldo had gone into the store to pay while I stood outside with Philip and our bikes.
“Who built the two towers?” an older gent asked me. He had darker skin tone, and a scarf decorated as his country’s flag hung about his shoulders. I knew he wasn’t English, and, given some peculiar behavior he had already been exhibiting, I assumed he was probably not all there in the mind.
“I don’t know,” was my reply. “Who built the two towers?” he pressed again. “I don’t know who built them, sir.” “Your government, that’s who! The same government that has invaded and destroyed my country.” “What country is that?” “Pakistan. You know, us Muslims.” He walked away just as Osvaldo was coming out of the store. I guess by the look of my face Osvaldo could tell something was wrong.
It wasn’t just the mere words that shook me up; it was more than that. It was his expression that wore anger and the way he directed his hate for the States at me. He didn’t care who I voted for President of the United States. He didn’t care to know that I couldn’t control the decisions being made by the heads of state. In fact he didn’t care about his hypocrisy as the all-American brand, Apple, was displayed on his body with earphones hanging around his neck, which connected to a device buried in his pocket. He hated America and Americans. He hated me in that moment simply because of my nationality, a factor out of my control. I saw firsthand for the first time the same kind of hate that has wreaked havoc on so many people, and which has caused the death of many.
The world needs love.
I have been watching, along with many other Americans, what has been going on in Ferguson, Missouri. While some facts are still unclear, it is obvious that there is a hate problem disguised as racism in that city. A white policeman kills an unarmed black teenager shooting him six times from a distance. A police force, which is 97 percent white in a majority black town, uses rubber bullets, tear gas and militarized weapons against its people, who again are mostly black, protesting. The rhetoric used by Ferguson’s police chief is reminiscent of rhetoric used in the 60s by racist Alabama leaders (read here).
Just like this Pakistani hated me simply because I am American, so too many people in the States hate people simply because of their race. Some whites hate those who are black, and there are blacks who hate those who are white. Being married to a Hispanic, I know there are many who hate Hispanics.
Those who hate are nonsensical; they don’t listen to reason. Those who hate do not care whether or not a person could control their circumstances, because really it isn’t about them anyways. The problem is with the person who engages in hatred. It’s a massive heart problem, a cancer really, that eats away at and eventually kills the person who has it, and unfortunately, can kill those at whom it is directed.
The world needs love, but not just any kind of love – the love of Jesus Christ.
I wrote last week about the persecution in Iraq, how ISIS members are killing Christians. Even though I didn’t mention them, there are others, most especially Yazidis, who also are facing death and persecution by ISIS members. Again, there is so much hate.
Hate. It was there in the beginning when Cain killed Abel. Hate. It knows no cultural, race, language, sex, or age bounds. We live in a world drowning in hate.
Love seems almost too obvious an answer to the problem of hate, but it is an answer held by both Christians and non-Christians alike. We sing the catchy lyrics, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of,” but is the love that the world speaks of the same as what Christians have to offer? In fact, what is love?
In 1993, an artist by the name of Haddaway asked the same question in his song, “What is love?” Made popular by Saturday Night Live, the song went like this: “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me no more.” (Thanks to me, the song is now stuck in your head, isn’t it?!) What is love? Love is how you treat someone. It’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do onto you. It is, “Baby, don’t hurt me.”
These examples (and there are many more!) assume the answer lies in man, that somewhere deep inside is enough goodness and strength to overcome hate and produce love (Oprah, Dr. Phil, Ellen). Yet, the world cannot answer for us what compels someone to love unconditionally. The love the world speaks of is easy enough for their friends but is it powerful enough to love his/her enemies? From where does the power come to turn hate into love?
For the Christians, the traditional love answer has been 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Equally as important to the Christian are the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself.
The problem when these Scriptures are our starting point for defining love or when we isolate them from the rest of the canon is that we might begin to think that love is determinant on the actions of humans alone. Taken alone, the emphasis on love focuses on our response and behaviors we are to exhibit. And in isolation, this definition of love is not all that different than the world’s. Our definition and their definition collide making it difficult to tell which is which.
This is why, then, we must start our definition of love with this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
We can love God and others because He showed us what love is first. He teaches us what love is, and He enables us to love. When we read Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, we must go back to Deuteronomy where the commandment was originally given. What we find there is, “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. … You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge …” (Deut. 10:15, 11:1). (See also Deut. 7:7-11.)
We love because he first loved us.
And how did God first love us? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). It’s the most quoted verse in Scripture for good reason. God’s love for us was not just a lofty idea or principle. It took on flesh. It became concrete. It was active and not passive. It was sacrificial.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us …” (1 Jn. 3:16).
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
What is the love we preach and give to the world? It is that while we were God’s enemies fully deserving of death Christ died for us so that in Him we might be reconciled to God and be forgiven. This is love! How can we love God with all we got and love our neighbor as our self? Because we have been transformed by His love. His love compels us to love. His love is at work in our lives giving us the power to love, to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love those who hate us. And once clothed with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us transforming our inability to love to an ability to love — the love that we see in 1 Corinthians 13.
The world knows hate. That’s why they must be given and see love as it is defined and personified in the person of Jesus Christ from Scripture: We deserved to be hated by God; we choose to sin and to be His enemies. Yet when we least deserved it, Christ died for us. A love that the world gives will only go so far because we humans cannot find the power to overcome hate and sin within ourselves. We humans can love the lovable on our own – our friends and family – but we do not hold the power to love the unlovable, those who hate us.
No amount of good deeds, social justice, and United Nation meetings will solve hate. People need to hear the love of Jesus.
This is why, Christians, we are commissioned to preach the cross and are bequeathed a ministry of reconciliation:
“For the love of Christ controls or compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 17-21)
Let’s preach this love to the world. Let’s show this love to the world. Let’s practice this love with one another, knowing that the ability to love doesn’t reside in ourselves but in the power of God who has shown us what love is all about. A love that is preached or demonstrated devoid of the cross is only a poor attempt at and a poor representation of love.
I want to conclude with the words of this beautiful Christian hymn:
The world’s only loving to its friends,
But you have brought us love that never ends;
Loving enemies too,
And this loving with you
Is what’s turning the world upside down.