‘Love one another, as I have loved you’, was the command of Jesus to his disciples; men would know we were his followers by the love we bore one for another. So hard is that commandment that our sinful nature rebels at it. This rebellion takes a number of forms. One is essentially sectarian: we are commanded to love only other Christians/other members of our Church. To spin that from the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, requires some effort, but mankind has usually been up to it. Another line is to insist on conditional love: love is to be given to those have deserved it by their repentance. That is a natural human reaction, but ignores the fact that God loved us first – even before we repent – and continues to love us, even when we continue to err and stray like lost sheep. If we drew from this the conclusion that we find it very difficult to love one another as Christ loves us, we would be correct; the effort to do so does, however, make us more Christ-like, not least because it requires us to abnegate the selfishness which makes us put ourselves first: the other must be or do something in order to be worth our love. That is not how Christ’s love works, and it must not be how our love works.
One of the ways in which our fallen nature processes the command to love one another is that it adds the adjective ‘tough’ to the noun ‘love’; it is a good way to justify our tendency to compound for the sins we do not commit by condemning them in others, and it has, of course, some justification in as far as we are commanded to hate the sin and admonish the sinner; that our fallen natures often make it look as those we hate the sinner, not least to the sinner, does not help maters But what might ‘tough love’ mean for us? Its meaning is clear. Christ told us to love those who hate us and to turn the other cheek to those who strike us – now that really is tough love; so tough most of us cannot get anywhere near it – I know I struggle and fail with it. We who counsel ‘tough love’, can we practice this?
God is love. The Holy Trinity is a unity of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit pour out a love that creates the heavens and the earth and which creates us and reaches out to redeem us. It is a mark of the Fall that we should have fallen so far from love – and yet a mark of the image in which we are made that we should have it at all; we are not so fallen that we cannot love each other, family and friends. Perhaps that is why Jesus emphasises to us that when we pray, we should call God ‘Father’. We can grasp the love of a father for a child, just as we can grasp love in the context of marriage. Christ feeds us what we can digest, and He knows that is difficult enough for us; to go beyond that would be too much for us.
God created the world in love, and it is through love he has redeemed it. His love is poured out on all of us, although so many reject it. In a world where love has been reduced to something far less than it is, and where it has been cheapened by over use, we can forget that love is not just about a feeling, but it is about a relationship. Relationships demand time and energy on our part, too. How much time do we give to our relationship with our Heavenly Father? How much time do we spend in silence and prayer with Him? Witnessing us in our daily lives, would the world see in us that love which marks us as His children? If not, what will we do about it?