Saturday, July 14, 2007

What's unique about Love as Agape?

The Christian Vocation to love God and the neighbor.

Christians—indeed all mankind—are commanded by their Creator and Judge to love Him, one another, including their enemies. To put it mildly this is a tough requirement and assignment.

Now all people everywhere are familiar with the need to love others, but the "others" are usually, if not inevitably, those of their own kind, type, kith and kin, together with those whom they find attractive for one reason or another. Certainly the idea of loving those who are different or whom they despise or regard as enemies is not considered as a duty in life.

In fact, the question of who to love, who is a proper object of one's loving, in normal life in this world focuses not on the one who will do the loving but upon those who may be loved. That is, loving others is usually, indeed primarily, determined by who the others are. This is so even—perhaps especially—in erotic or romantic loving where the one in love is so because there is something in the beloved which attracts as a magnet the affections.

Bearing this is mind, the command of Jesus to his disciples to love people as he loves them and especially to love the enemy, the outsider and the needy seems totally outside the scope and possibility of human loving. Perhaps occasionally the "normal" human being can rise above normality and love someone outside "the circle" but to do so as a disposition of the will and a way of life is not considered as sensible or reasonable.

This is where the full Gospel of Jesus Christ comes into the human situation not only with the promise of forgiveness for sins of omission and commission and the promise of life everlasting; but, also, with the promise of the creation of a new principle of life within the soul so that the Holy Spirit may dwell therein and "the love (agape) of God may be shed abroad in the heart."

As we have noted, what is needed by human beings in order to begin to be true creatures and humble servants of the Lord their God is the inward desire, motivation and will to love God as He is, the Holy, Blessed and Undivided Trinity, and to love fellow human beings as they really are--be they friends or enemies, rich or poor, sick or well. That is, to love in the same way as God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ love the world: they love sinners, they love those who rebel against them; and they love those who despise and hate them for they are merciful and gracious. They offer the fullness of salvation and redemption and glorification not to the righteous but to wicked sinners.

Thus the love for which the Lord our God calls, and which our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified, is a love that in the first place is not motivated by the nature and character of the other (the one to be loved), but is a permanent principle resident within the regenerate soul, and, as such, this indwelling love looks for people of all kinds, from friends to enemies, to care for and be kind and gracious to. It is there to imitate the way that God's love for it is the love of God in the human soul.

Practically speaking we may say that within the soul or inner life of the baptized, regenerate Christian believer, there are to be found two active principles, one of which is to be mortified and the other to be allowed to grow and bear constant fruit. (1) From the old nature, the "flesh" as St Paul calls it, come the readiness and desires to love the lovable in terms of those who qualify for our love (friends, family heroes and the like) and along with this a tendency to despise or neglect or seek to have no feelings for the rest of humankind. (2) From the new nature, the new creation, the new "man", come the desire and readiness to love God as a solemn duty and high privilege and also to love all God's rational creatures (human beings) who are made in his image and likeness, despite their sins. Thus in this loving the enemy is included with the friend, and God's justice and wrath are loved as much as his righteousness and grace.

Yet, as long as we are living on earth in the evil world and have bodies that are weak and waiting for their transformation at the general resurrection of the dead, we need to be reminded of the duty to love in god's way and this is why the two great Commandments to love God and the neighbor are proclaimed in the Order for Holy Communion. As the adopted children of God, justified by faith through grace, we seek to love as God loves, and in this commitment to the holy life of love, we fall short, fail and make serious mistakes. Wonderfully and happily, the God whom we serve is Love and with him there is full and free forgiveness for the repentant sinner! In the life of the world to come in our perfected bodies of glory, we shall naturally and gladly love God with all our beings and also love our fellow creatures with all our beings and we shall know experientially the meaning of the statement, "God is Love."

The Revd Dr Peter Toon, July 14 2007

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