The Limits of Love


(system) #1

God is many things – eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, ubiquitous. Most of these adjectives are but dimly understood by us, because we have no frame of reference, no basis for comparison, and no one or nothing similar in our sphere of understanding.

But most of all, God is love. I believe one of the reasons God came to Earth, His Son reincarnated as man, was to demonstrate that love in such a tangible way that an active resistance to His appeal was required to reject Him and His message.

And such a message it was. There had been none like Him before, and there were none like Him thereafter. He was indeed sui generis.

Our society rightly acknowledges and honors men and women who selflessly act on behalf of others, whether by putting themselves in harm’s way in wartime or, closer to home, doing the same during catastrophes such as occurred on 9/11.

Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

But Christ Himself demonstrated a love greater than this, and, with all due respect (and no intention of modifying Holy Writ), I think what He might have said, instead, is this: “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his enemies.”

For this is what He did: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

It takes courage and lack of egocentricity to risk injury or even death to save someone else. Many parents would do that for their children. I would, without question, and include my grandchild in that equation.

But would I do it for a stranger? I’d like to answer in the affirmative, and quickly, but admit to some hesitation without giving the matter more thought and knowing specifics.

So therein I know I am in the need of Christian growth.

Let’s take this one step further.

Would I do it for an enemy, someone with whom I had mutual antipathy? One might argue that a Christian should have no enemies, in that he supposedly loves everyone. Or should. But the reality is that there are enemies. While you may feel you have no enemy, some people may consider you their enemy.

King David acknowledged this in Psalm 23: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies...” (v. 5).

Even though we are enjoined to love (without condition), life being what it is, there are certain individuals we’ll probably never like. And vice-versa. Would I unflinchingly give my life for someone for whom I had no affinity?

Jesus did. On the cross, some of His last words were: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In point of fact, “they” were His enemies, and knew exactly what they were doing –killing an innocent man. Of infinitely greater cosmic consequence, they were crucifying divinity. Was it not self-condemnation, tinged with more than a touch of irony, when they said, “His blood be upon us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25)?

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, demonstrated a similar spirit of forgiveness when, just before being stoned to death, cried out, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60).

I posit a true Christian is one who is willing to sacrifice his life for anyone. For Christ, our example and our raison d’etre, did just that, dying for all and for one – even if that one were a person as undeserving of grace as myself.

For Jesus, love had no limits.

In the author’s words: I am just a fellow pilgrim. I live not far from my daughter's family, including a pre-school grandson who reminds me of the little children for whom Christ had an affinity. I work part-time as a healthcare professional, play piano for cradle roll, and, among other interests, enjoy photography, tennis, and biking to the coast.

Image: "The Story of the Cross" by Albert Pinkham Ryder, ca. 1890


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5934