Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Cure

It is happening again. Death. Division. Revenge. Misunderstanding. Anger. Literal violence in the streets.

Black. White. Blue.

And that is just this week. Two weeks ago, the focus was not on black/white but on gay/straight. Not long before that, it was on Muslim/non-Muslim.

People groups are targeted, whether based on their race, their color, their national origin, their politics, their sexuality, their religion, their occupation, or their association with people of a given race, sexuality, political persuasion, religion, or job.

Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

One does not have to be black, Muslim, gay, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, or employed as a police officer to stand with those who are targeted.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This week, I have heard all sorts of so-called causes for our national (and international) crisis described and blamed. Those scapegoats have included gun laws, drug laws, the internet and social media, poor mental health care, tv violence, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, the professional media, the level of debate in the country, conservatism, liberalism, and others. I believe those may all contribute, but they are at most symptoms. As I have written before, our basic problem is that we do not love each other enough.

That simple statement - we don't love each other enough - is profound to some and laughable to others. When I posted that message on Facebook, I got "amen" and "100% agree" comments alongside "100% disagree" comments. Those who disagree are good people; I assume they disagree because they think my sentiment is too simple, even naïve. They believe that most of us love one another and that it is just some bad apples who are the problem.

Still, I sense that many agree, or are moving to agree, with me on the true cause. For years, we have addressed these types of issues with agendas and laws. We have poured money into social programs. We have assessed special additional penalties for "hate crimes." We have mandated sensitivity training. Now, when the president suggests that the answer is a new "task force," his suggestion is met with scoffing disbelief. More and more, people are realizing that curricula and action plans cannot address problems of the heart.

So, we have identified the cause: we do not love each other enough. Does that end the story?

Of course not. Because telling people to "go out and love each other more" is not going to work.

Loving one another is not something we can just decide to do with any chance of long-term solvency. We can sing "What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love" all we want to, but wishing and hoping will never make it so. We are fallen, sinful, puny human beings, tossed by the winds and subject to our own natural biases, prejudices, and basic failings. Left to our own devices, no matter how much we try, we will never love fully or perfectly or permanently. If the cause is the problem of the heart, and it is, then the solution requires curing the heart. Loving others requires first receiving the love of God.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.... Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.... God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

God is the source - the only source - of love. Jesus gave - and gives - His "new command" because Jesus is God in the flesh, showing us who God is and embodying the fullness of God so we can know what God is like.

It is incumbent on those of us who know God to demonstrate God's love to a violent and angry world, to love those who are not like us and do not look like us and do not act like we do and do not believe like we do.

But even demonstrating the love of God to everyone is not enough; it is incumbent on us to introduce others to God. We need to stop telling people how to act and how to love. In this matter, as in all things, expecting those who do not know God to act as if they did know God is fruitless and silly. We need instead to lead them to the One who can and will change their hearts and their souls. They need to know God, to experience God's love, to want to know what God has that can change their lives. That takes time and energy. Jesus did not just show up and demand that Peter and Matthew and the rest start loving their Roman oppressors. Jesus spent three intense years with his closest apostles before announcing, the night before His death, this "new command." So, we need to focus less on telling people how to act and more on introducing them to the One who can cure the heart. And along the way, we need to model that love and demonstrate clearly what it means to follow Christ.

We do not love each other enough because (1) not enough of us know God, who is love and (2) those of us who do know God are not demonstrating God's love clearly nearly often enough.

Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing... But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.

We know the cause. And we know the cure.

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