Lamin Sanneh says that “disagreement is not a barrier to dialogue. On the contrary, it is a test of the willingness to presume on each other’s goodwill and to covet the best for each other. To be charitable is to be deserving of charity oneself. Without difference dialogue would be moot. If you feel the need to conceal what you believe for fear of difference, then dialogue becomes just a show, and agreement an illusion. Indeed agreement by concealment is intolerance by another name, if truth be told.”
Merton knew only too well that the sin, evil, and violence he found in the world were the same sin, the same evil, and the same violence he had discovered in his own heart through solitude, silence, and prayer. The impurity in the world was a mirror of the impurity in his own heart. – Henri Nouwen
“…but I love you.”
(A brief note: I’m still refining my views on this. I wanted to post this because I would greatly appreciate criticism, as I’m still in the process of figuring out what I currently hold on this subject as a conviction, and what it looks like to flesh out in practicality. I believe this topic is extremely important for Christians to converse about. Our highest calling is to love God and love neighbor!)
As Kingdom people, we are not called to like (storge) everyone. We are not called to like that the driver in front of us cut us off not only once, but twice! We are not to like that he also flipped us off and honked at us, even if it was his fault. We are not called to like his actions. However, we are called to love (agape) him. So what is the difference?
Storge is one of the Greek words in the New Testament commonly translated as “love.” However, it generally means an “appreciation” or “affection” for something. For example, I personally like cashew butter. I like it a lot. Cashew butter tastes amazing. I would even venture so far as to say I love it. However, I do not love cashew butter in the same way that I love my mother. That would be weird.
Agape is another of the Greek words translated as “love.” This one, however, is radically different than storge. It means “a love that gives worth to another at cost to oneself, if necessary.” This is demonstrated most vividly on the cross. Jesus, God made flesh, suffers an agonizing death on the cross for all of humanity – probably the most unjust, unfair, and most loving act in human history. The cross demonstrates God’s agape love for the human race – He considers all humans to be of such unsurpassable worth, that He was willing to go so far as die for them. The love that He has for us cost Him something. However, it is highly likely He doesn’t storge a lot of aspects of the human race. For example, He’s not a fan of sin. He hates iniquity, but He loves us. I’m attempting to argue this is how we’re called to view all humans, as well.
So if we’re called to demonstrate this love to those who we don’t necessarily like, and don’t have to like them, what does this mean? First, I think it is important to point out that disliking someone is different than disliking something about them, such as their sin, their action, or their characteristics. I believe this is what is meant when we say we don’t like someone – we don’t like what they do. We don’t like that the driver flipped us off. And that’s okay. God doesn’t like all the sin that you do. But God loves you nonetheless. However, if what you mean is you don’t like someone and think they have no worth before God and you are justified in not displaying the agape love we are called to demonstrate, you are not simply disliking them, but hating them. I don’t think it’s necessarily possible to like/dislike a person, but it is possible to love/hate a person. You can like/dislike characteristics or actions that they do, but you cannot inherently like/dislike who they are in essence, regarding the deep things, such as their intrinsic value, significance, and worth. However, you can love/hate these aspects about a person. By saying you dislike someone, what you mean is you either dislike aspects of their character or things they have done/do, or you mean you hate who they are.
To recap thus far, to dislike someone is to dislike something about their character. To believe they are worthless or insignificant is to hate them. There is a difference. In this sense, it is possible to dislike something about someone’s actions or character, while at the same time love them.
From here, we are able to talk about what it means to love (agape) them, while not liking what they do. My current belief and understanding is that, just as God dislikes our sin, yet suffered for us on the cross, which led to forgiveness, we are called to love those who we dislike and have harmed us, at cost to ourselves. But how does this forgiveness cost us something?
When someone does something that harms you, you get hurt. You now are able to make a choice with what to do with that pain.
1. Dwell on it. Let it turn to bitterness, hatred, and spite. Let it infect you and manifest as something not-so-lovely.
2. Seek physical or verbal revenge – inflict pain on them.
3. Forgive them. Receive the pain of what they did, as well as the pain of forgiveness.
Okay, here they are fleshed out a bit more:
1. Holding a grudge against a person, although not physically manifesting, is itself toxic and harmful to both parties. How so? It makes you manifest anger and hatred, even towards those who were not related to the situation. It can cloud your judgment and make you negative, inhibiting your ability to more fully manifest the agape love you are called to manifest. Not only that, but it presupposes that you are justified in holding a grudge. Even though Jesus, who you are calling “Lord,” and called to imitate, considered them worth dying and suffering for, you strip them of that worth and attribute it to yourself. To hold a grudge against someone is to consider them worth less than yourself. Whereas Jesus demonstrates we are called to consider them as having unsurpassable worth.
2. Seeking physical or verbal revenge manifests itself more noticeably, and generally starts a vicious cycle of verbal or physical attacks on one another. It’s like a game of unloving tennis. Back and forth the ball goes, as both parties involved grow more and more bitter. There is no winner in this game, only losers.
You still devalue this person.
3. Forgive them. You realize that you don’t understand everything about this person – their situation, their mind, their heart, their deepest being. You don’t know where they’ve been, where they are, or where they’re going. And even if you do understand a bit of it, you’ll never understand them to completion. You are not God. You understand that there are many factors that play into someone’s actions, whether it be a bad day, abuse in the past, or all the other negative influences of a messed up, broken world. You realize life is complex, and that every event in a person’s life impacts and can shape their actions. Above all of this, you realize that Jesus considered them to have such amazing, unsurpassable worth, that He went so far as to die for them. If He considered them significant enough to die for, you should as well. This is the love we are called to. This is what I believe is one meaning of “picking up your cross” daily. To forgive causes us pain. We bear the pain of what the other person deserves. Jesus suffered on the cross by bearing our sin and our judgment – receiving what we deserve. This is exactly what we do when we forgive someone. In a sense, we are on a cross, bearing what the other person deserves. Love attributed to someone at cost to oneself.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe you can just automatically forgive someone. If you were abused as a child and you are now a fully grown adult, it’s going to take time to learn to forgive. Forgiveness is a process, not a one time thing. Forgiveness is a way of life, a commitment, a journey, a path, a direction. It is not a one time action. It is hard, can be a struggle, and is many times painful. This is the way of the cross. This is the way of agape love.
Okay, but what about the people who we simply dislike but who haven’t so much hurt us as annoy us? What about the people who we simply just..don’t like? The ones that are just annoying. What about them?
Attribute unsurpassable worth to them anyway. It might not cause you the same pain in the same way that forgiveness does, but it will still be a struggle. When you catch yourself thinking nasty thoughts towards a person, thank Jesus for them(both the thoughts and the person. Be thankful for the thoughts, because they serve as a reminder for who you are not called to be. It won’t do any good to get angry at yourself for these thoughts. Simply be thankful for them, and turn them around. And of course, thank Jesus for the person.), ask Him to help you find something beautiful about their character, and pray a blessing on them. This love is not about feelings, it is about action. However, when this love is practiced, you’ll find that you might start feeling compassion towards people you never thought you’d even be able to tolerate, let alone feel love towards.
Two final notes:
We do not forgive in order to be forgiven. We don’t love in order to be loved. We don’t give to receive.
We do forgive because we have already been forgiven. We do love because we already have been unconditionally loved. And we do freely give because we have freely received. We do none of these things to earn God’s love, forgiveness, or approval. We do them because we already have them. The more you receive from God, the more you will be able to give to others. Trust in God’s goodness and love for you, and you will be able to give that to others.
As you grow in your reception of love and your giving of love, it is possible you will find that the pain and burden of carrying the cross of forgiveness does not lessen, but it becomes less of a burden and more of a joy. You will find that the compassion you have for others overshadows the pain and burden they cause you to carry. The agape love will be not only a choice, but always a feeling. This may not come to fruition until after your perfection manifests itself after death, but it is possible you will get beautiful glimpses of it.
Let us all grow in love for God and one another, resting in Jesus and allowing the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forevermore. Amen.
Blessings and peace,