I’ve come across a number of Christians lately who are questioning the impulse to elevate love above any other concern. Love is too soft and squishy, they say. Love becomes an excuse to avoid hard things like confronting sin and enforcing discipline. One writer even asked if we are in danger of making love an idol. (Perhaps he hasn’t gotten to the part where the bible says that God IS love?!?)
I have something to tell you about people who say that love is squishy, soft, a cop-out: quite clearly, such a person has never actually attempted to love unconditionally. Loving unconditionally is the hardest thing any human being can ever try to do. Confronting sin? Upsetting friends and family? Setting boundaries and rules? Pffftttt . . . . Those are the simplest, most natural things in the world for the fallen human mind to do. Loving unconditionally? That WILL DESTROY YOU. It will cost you EVERYTHING. You will DIE if you try to do it.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” ~ Matthew 16:24
These Christians who warn against love are right to be afraid of it. But not because it’s soft and squishy. Just the opposite. Unconditional love is the hardest, heaviest cross a human being can bear. It sent Jesus to his death. He warned us that it would divide “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
In fact, unconditional love is so hard and so dangerous that I’ve had mature, devout, loving Christians who I respect warn me against it. One man told me to never ask God to teach me to love people the way he does. It’s impossible, he said. Another woman told me the same thing about the sort of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s impossible.
Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~ Matthew 19:26
When you love unconditionally, you don’t get to make demands. You don’t get to pressure the other to change, to make you happy, to do as you see fit. When they hurt you, you have to forgive. Every time. When they don’t give you what you need, you don’t get to withhold in return.
To love unconditionally, you have to “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.”
“Your Father who is in heaven. . . causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” ~Matthew 5:45
Which is the real secret of unconditional love: it has nothing to do with the person you are loving. Human love is all about the other person – how they make me feel, if they are good, what is pleasing about them, if they treat me well. If the person is good, kind, giving, gentle, attractive, useful, then our affection for them grows and we call that love. When someone is bad, mean, selfish, harsh, ugly, useless, then we struggle to call up any affection for them and loving them can become impossible.
Unconditional love works differently. It comes from the goodness of the lover, not the loved. We humans cannot do it unless we have been redeemed and purified in love. And that’s the rub. It is as we attempt to do the impossible – love unconditionally – that we are redeemed and purified in love. Love is a terrible cross. It is the narrow path that few find. It is our salvation.
The truth is that humanity is suspicious of love because loves doesn’t address what we see as the real problem – other people and their sins. Instead, love focuses like a laser on me and my heart. I cannot attend to the work love demands of me and look at the sins of others at the same time. But if I let go of my worry about everyone else and follow love where it will lead me, the Kingdom of God will begin to be manifest in and through me.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” ~ John 12:24
Salvation comes from dying. If you try to love unconditionally, make no mistake about it; you will die. You will lose everything you ever took life from: the approval of others, status, power, comfort, achievement, certainty, rules, talents, relationships, titles, roles – all of it will be lost. God is a jealous God – he does not share his throne with anything or anyone. Because he is the only source of life – in his presence everything else must become dead to you.
When I am hurt by someone, when I am maligned, when my needs are not met, human love dies. If someone mistreats me and instead of fighting back, I absorb that and bring it to my father for healing and correction, what is meant for evil becomes part of my salvation.
People will push your love to its limits so God can remove them. They will trigger your every dysfunction so they can be unlearned. They will create and play with your every hurt so it can be scrupulously cleaned out, sutured, operated on and attacked until it is all healed. They will slam up against your hard places until they are soft and abuse your soft spots until God makes them strong.
“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” ~ Corrie ten Boom
When you give up your right to judge, to hold a grudge, to be offended, to control and pressure, to withhold affection, to demand that your rights be respected, you will lose faith in everything you know, everything you trust, and everything you depend on so that it can all be cast aside. Learning to love unconditionally will lead to everything being removed from your clinging fingers until you have nothing left to hold onto except God alone. Your life in the flesh must die. And make no mistake – like death on the cross always it, it’s a long, painful, ugly, tortuous death.
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” ~ Matthew 26:42
Unless you really want God, unless you really want his kingdom, unless you really want to give yourself over to love completely, this is not a journey you should take. Because before it’s all done, you will beg for mercy a million times over. You will search for a way to quit. You will spend countless hours calling out to the darkness that surrounds you. You will collapse under the weight of the cross. You will despair and feel forsaken by God and man. Dying hurts, but we must die to be born again in the Spirit.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. ~ 1 John 4:18
Those people who are worried about love – ishy, squishy, namby-pamby love? They are right to be worried. Because if we all follow love, then we will have to put down the tools humanity has been been using to try to shape reality with since time immemorial – the rules, the boundaries, the battles. And if we put those tools down – everything will come unhinged. Every boundary will be crossed. Every evil will occur. The dams we have been propping up to keep the worst of human nature at bay will break. We will die. They know this and fear it. But it’s already happening. They can’t stop it and they are going to die right along with everyone else. In fact, the longer they fight love, the longer and more painful the death will be.
But it’s the storm before the calm. These people don’t trust love and are desperate to avoid the storm because they don’t really trust God. They don’t understand that the enemy death which they fear so much has already been defeated for us by Christ. In their heart of hearts, they are afraid that God will be defeated by the forces of darkness, cruelty, sin and, yes, death. And they are wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. . . ” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” ~ Revelation 21:5,6
God’s Kingdom is a bit like happiness – we can’t get there by trying to create it directly. In God’s Kingdom, there will be no sin. So we wage war on sin, thinking that will bring about God’s Kingdom. But sin can only be defeated through purification by love. In God’s Kingdom, there will be no suffering. So we try to fix, suppress and hide from whatever makes us suffer, thinking that is the way to God’s Kingdom. But the end of suffering comes only when we have walked through the suffering of death to new birth. In God’s Kingdom, no one will stand above or below another, but we will love each other all the same. So we work to elevate the downtrodden and bring down the mighty thinking that will manifest God’s Kingdom. But to love the low and the high all the same, we must unlearn human love and embrace unconditional love and all that entails.
God’s Kingdom is love. It is made by love. It comes through love. It is manifest through love. If we ever want to see the new heaven and new earth God has promised, it can only be found by picking up the cross of love and following it through death, hell and into the resurrection of new life.
I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:3-4