John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
Mark 12: 28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Over the last several months we have suffered through a rancorous, contentious, rude, divisive political season. At times, the dialogue of the public square has sounded more like a shouting match between inebriated ruffians in a back alley than the thoughtful discourse of those who would lead and govern our nation. It has been embarrassing more than inspiring. It would be difficult to find an entire paragraph from the transcript of our discourse that would be characterized as “speaking the truth in love.” And it has not ended with the election. While it would be nice to pretend it isn’t our problem, to do so would be to ignore the One who has called us to discipleship. Sooner or later, the people of Christ have choices to make.
The overriding feature of most political conversation has been anger. Anyone who doesn’t believe our current state of affairs isn’t the result of an anger epidemic isn’t paying attention! My reading and observations for over five decades have taught me some things about anger.
Generally anger is rooted in fear, pain, and frustration. Today’s world has an abundance of opportunity to experience all three. If nothing else, the rapid rate of change which out-paces our ability to adapt and cope will bring more than enough fear and frustration for most people. Add to that the resulting pain that comes from a feeling of being left behind, excluded, or abandoned and we have the prime and fertile breeding ground for profound, systemic anger.
It appears that people find themselves playing a game where the rules keep changing and the scoreboard seems hidden. Hard work and loyalty don’t pay the dividends anticipated. Young people go into debt for degrees that don’t provide jobs that pay enough to service the loans. This is especially so for many of the “helping” professions – clergy, teachers, social workers, counselors, etc.
Many from the younger generations feel as though they packed for a trip to the beach and the plane landed in Siberia! Trust levels are on empty. Human instinct would tell us there are people responsible for this. Since we’re not sure who they are we opt for what seems obvious - anyone and everyone who isn’t like us, who aren’t part of our group. These are people who don’t speak our language, look like us, like what we like, hate what we hate, share our beliefs, or sing our songs. And with every new addition to the diversity around us, by the virtue of this thought process, we have more antagonists. We are now all outnumbered by nearly everyone. Fear, pain and frustration reach the saturation point. And anger follows.
If we let this run its course we will destroy ourselves. It will be as if our total population has been inflicted with a cultural auto-immune disease. We will watch our own mutual assured destruction without our real enemies firing a shot.
So how is this the church’s problem? After all, we all love each other and preach and teach a lot about love. Surely, if the world around us would simply heed our message and follow our example this thing could be fixed quickly. But maybe that’s the problem.
In an article by Lee Strobel on this topic entitled “Handling Christianity’s Toughest Challenge” he tells of a letter written by a man who used to have no spiritual interests or inclinations. He lived next door to a Christian, with whom he had a casual friendship. Then the non-Christian’s wife died suddenly and he was devastated. Here is part of the letter he wrote about the experience:
“I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My neighbor – afraid of what I might do – stayed with me all night. He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally arose over the river; he came over to me and said, ‘Let’s go get some breakfast.’ I go to church now. My neighbor’s church.’ A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.”
If love were just a message, a lesson, or an automatic response to some religious experience, our Lord would not have commanded us to love. It is a choice. It is always a choice. And when it comes to fear, we are reminded by St. John that there is one thing that casts out fear – perfect love.
In these days of rancor and conflict, we can no longer afford the option of choosing not to love each other. As it turns out the command to love is ultimately self-enforcing. Much like the speed limit signs on icy mountain roads – we ignore them at our own peril.
We can continue to let unfettered anger rule and finally destroy us. Or we can renew our commitment to love. We who follow Christ have been presented with a tremendous opportunity. We can choose to treat this as someone else’s problem. Or we can walk with our neighbors along the river. We can be what Christ has called us to be – His presence in a world seriously in need of reconciliation.