faith, life, depression, struggle

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Failing to love as God intends and commands

I am a failure at many things, but none so keenly hurts to think about as my failure to obey the Great Commandment: "But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" (Matt. 22:34-40, ESV)

I am put in mind of this by a wonderful post/meditation by Andrew Mills, one of the writers who contributes at At his own blog, he writes:

Anton Szandor LaVey was the founder of the Church of Satan.  He said a lot of things.  And sometimes he stumbled onto some truth.  He once said, “You cannot love everyone; it is ridiculous to think you can. If you love everyone and everything you lose your natural powers of selection and wind up being a pretty poor judge of character and quality. If anything is used too freely it loses its true meaning.”  In a sense he was correct, and in a sense he was way off base.

When asked which of the laws were the most important, Jesus replied that the command to love God and love our neighbor are the two laws upon which all other laws are hung.  This is good news.  We are not bound by the crushing weight of the Law.  But it is also very bad news because Dr. LaVey was actually kind of right.  When we really get right down to it, we are utterly incapable of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind as we are commanded.  And we are utterly incapable of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  That is where many of us skim over the words.  We see “Love God, love others” and then we sort-of mumble through that whole “with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “as yourself” part.  I can love my neighbor…but in the same way I love myself?
Mills had me hooked by leading off with a quote from LaVey, admittedly. I used to read LaVey with regularity, before my own conversion in April 2000. (Not that I immediately stopped reading him then, or swore off reading "such things" at that point; far from it. There are entire parts of the Satanic Bible that make good sense, in fact; much of it is simply a more direct, realistic form of humanism, but the "Satanic" part scares people off or attracts them, and LaVey was a master of generating publicity.) 

LaVey describes what humans mostly mean when they talk about "love." It's very selective. Even among us who claim to love more than what/whom most love, it is still selective. One need think of American politics for, oh, half a second to recognize the sweeping truth of that statement. We love whom we love, and we hate whom we hate, by our nature.
To that, Jesus says, "Not good enough. Not nearly good enough." His own words (from the "other" part of the Sermon on the Mount, post-Beatitudes): "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall 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 may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:43-48, ESV)

We are called to love relentlessly, as God does. Not selectively; relentlessly. We are, in fact, called to strive for perfection in love. Impossible, says any sane human being. Correct, says any other sane human being. But ... again, in His own words: "But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" (Matt. 19:26, ESV)

Mills goes more deeply into this, too:

The problem is not that I have so many units of love to give, and if I give a certain amount of it to one thing then there is none left for the rest.  The problem is confusing the types of love.  If I love my career in the way that I should love my wife it is a problem.  If I love long walks in the woods in the rain disproportionately to the way I love my son, there is a problem.  If I love anything in the way that I should love God, then there is a problem.  The problem is not supply of love, the problem is priority, proportion, and source.
As we said above, if I try to love things out of order, things get screwy.  If I try to love myself more than my neighbor, things go a bit haywire.  If I confuse “love” with “like” and try to force myself to feel amicably for everything and everyone around me (and worse, if I try to do it on my own steam), then things fall apart quickly.  I don’t know if he ever realized it, but what LaVey was revolting against in these statements was actually a corruption of the Truth about Love.  The smartest guy I know always says, “If the devil can’t get you to do something wrong, he’ll get you to do something right in the wrong way.”  If we can’t be persuaded into a miserable hatred of the world around us, then we can pretty easily be manipulated into a washed-out and ineffectual love that leads to resentment.  Or we can be persuaded that we just don’t have enough love to spare for everyone. (Emphasis mine)
Guilty. Very guilty, I am. There is my failure, my repeated failure, pretty much the continuum of my failure to love God. I often fall into misanthropy—the "miserable hatred of the world around us." I see unbridled injustice, wickedness on a grand scale, continual justification of the same, and .... the same tendencies within my unguarded heart. I fail, I fail, I fail, again and again. If even the slightest filament of my salvation depends on my performance, I am utterly doomed. So what can I do?

Cry out, again and again, confessing that I am what I am: a lowly sinner, made worthy only by the atonement of Jesus Christ and the grace of God, whose mysterious and overwhelming love never ceases to awe me. How on earth could God love someone as wicked as me? The same way He could love any of us wicked, wicked people, a love so great that He sent His only Son to die for our sins. Greater love hath no man. And that impossibly high standard is the end of our race, the goal we continually strive for, reaching where we have no power by the strength and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It's the only way it could happen; because with God, all things are possible.

So, each moment—no matter how bad the last one was, no matter how miserably I failed—presents a new opportunity to cry out, to reach out, to pray, to love. And that, to me, is a miracle. I love the God of miracles.

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