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You’re going to think that this is the only book I ever read, but Buechner put it memorably again this morning…

The  love for equals is a human thing—of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.

The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing—the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion and it touches the heart of the world.

The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing—to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love  of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.

And then there is love for the enemy—love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love.  It conquers the world.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dave Chow #

    Love ya man…

    November 15, 2008
  2. Tyler #

    Some thoughts on this.

    To love those less fortunate:

    Do we love their miss fortune? Love born from their suffering and pain? It is very hard, if not impossible to truly love those things. Or, do we love the potential for better in their lives. Love in the sense of action we can take to improve upon their situation. For no one can call the beautiful ugly. But, one can see the potential of good things and love the good or beautiful things within the ugly.

    Loving the enemy:

    If we love the enemy for evil deeds it encourages in just actions. Again we can love the potential an evil person may have and the good actions they may do. But togrant love to their evil actions only strengthens the ground on which they stand.

    I think it is important to distinguish where exactly the love resides. While loving the evil or misfortune seems noble, it is important to love the good elements of their being or else you run the risk of corrupting your own by loving the evil itself.

    December 1, 2008
  3. Thanks for the insightful comments Tyler. I think you’ve made some excellent points. Buechner has a real way with words and it’s sometimes easy to just appreciate his rhetorical flourish without subjecting what he says to careful scrutiny. Thanks for giving us pause.

    I agree that in both the examples you cite, it’s important to separate the inherently undesirable or even evil dimension of the situation from what we are actually called to love. I don’t think that Jesus calls us to love the cause of misfortune or the evil behaviour of our enemies. I think that in each case, what we are asked to love is the common humanity of those around us. We are all image-bearers of God, loved by him, and called to imitate this love.

    I think that you are also right to point to the importance of the potential for change. Our love for the less fortunate ought to have in mind the improvement of their situation. Our love for our enemy ultimately has its goal their transformation. But I also think that we are called to love these people even when this potential goes unrealized. Maybe one of the points of Buechner’s quote is that love cannot be tied to tightly (if at all?) to moral performance. If it was, how many of us would merit the love we need?

    In the end, I think 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 still says it best. It seems to capture both the importance of moral truth you highlight and the radical nature of love Christ embodied:

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    December 1, 2008
  4. Tyler #

    That is an awesome quote. It does cover both aspects of it.

    My only question is whether love is not self seeking. Not that self seeking love is a bad thing… but fundamentally if you love the good, do you love it for what it does to you? Does that make sense? Just toying with the thought.

    Even in a Christian context, is love for a persons own good? Love your pal, enemy, God etc because it is beneficial to society and essentially a commandment from God. It seems self seeking or selfish but is definitely not in a negative sense, but it does appear to be a requisite for love.

    December 2, 2008
  5. Yes, the question makes total sense to me Tyler. I think that at some level all love is self-seeking for the simple reason that when people are operating as they are supposed to – when they are reflecting God’s image properly – everyone benefits, including me (or you or anyone else trying to love their neighbour, enemy, etc). I don’t think that in order for love of the other to be genuine it can’t have any benefit for us.

    (I’ve reflected on similar themes here, in case you’re interested. A bit of a different context, but some common elements, I think.)

    December 2, 2008

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