Latterly, whenever I have written about ‘love’ here it has caused controversy. God showed the extent of his love for us by gaining for us the rewards of salvation by his sacrifice at Calvary. Jesus prayed that the Church would reflect that love. Yet it is clear, except to those with their fingers in their ears and eyes fixed on their own navels, that the world does not see the Church as a society which manifests a radical, self-sacrificing love, either to its own members, or to those without it. We can, of course, choose to tell the world it does not understand these things, but we might do better to reflect on how and why it has this impression, and to wonder how far we are responsible for this sorry state of affairs.
Looking from the outside, or even the inside, or even at this blog, the world might get the impression that Christians are preoccupied with somewhat arcane theological disputes, inter-denominational quarrels, and doctrinal disputes in which we evince nothing that looks in the slightest bit like Christ’s love on Calvary. We are known in the world not for our love and our radical embrace of the outsider and the outcast, but rather for our propensity to judge. If, as Our Lord prayed, the world would know Him through our witness of love, perhaps the real reason for the growth of atheism and agnosticism is that our witness has been so poor?
Paul told the Galatians that all that matters when we are in Christ is faith working through love. We are called not to be ‘religious’ or ‘pious’ – these things are a by-product, or rather the result of the new life we have in Christ – we are called to witness to that new life and to the love of Christ which has transformed us. Christ loved us when we were far off, and though we are sinners, and he laid his life down for us because His love saw we were worth saving; do we do that? Are the Churches noted in the world for doing this? We are told to love God and our neighbour as ourself – and we’re not allowed the option of loving only those neighbours who are like us – everything else, the whole of the Law and the Old Testament witness hangs on obeying this commandment. John tells us we are liars if we say we love God but hate our brothers and sisters, and in the light of what Jesus says, it is wrong to read this last as somehow John saying we should love only our fellow Christians – those who argue thus seem frightened of the implications of the radical love of Christ which transforms us. If we do not love, we do not know God.
We can, and we often do, choose to assess ourselves and others by how far they conquer a particular sin, how often they go to church, and how ‘religious’ they seem, and this is fair enough, but how often do we judge them – and ourselves – by the extent to which we manifest that love of God for others – all others, even the outcasts, the strangers within our gate, and those who seem most unloveable? All we do is in Christ, and if we love, as we know we are loved by God, then we pass on that knowledge to others. We are told that if we abide in love, we abide in God, and that is not theoretical, it isn’t about defining the various types of love which we see in Scripture, it is about expressing that love of God which led the Word to sacrifice Himself for us because He saw in us the image of God. Do we do that? Or do we parse words and shimmy away from the radical conclusion that it is our failure to witness to this love of God which is at the root of the growth of secularism?