Loving with the Love of Jesus
LOVE IS A DECISION TO EXPRESS THE LOVE OF GOD, TO ALLOW OUR BARRIERS TO FALL
By James L. Foster
It is popularly thought that love is something you “fall” into, that when it comes to loving another, it just happens. We fall in love with one person. We don’t fall in love with others. (Or, if we do fall in love with more than one person, our relationships are thereby made very complicated.) We typically assume there is some mystery associated with falling in love and we often attribute it to God. How we account for the equally prevalent experience of falling out of love is another matter that somehow does not fit the “providential” mindset quite so easily.
Falling in Love vs. Divine Love
Psychologist Scott Peck, exploring the phenomenon of falling in love from a psychological perspective, categorically states that “falling in love” is not real love at all, and he gives the following reasons:
Falling in love is not an act of will, it is not a conscious choice…
Falling in love is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries…
Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience.
Falling in love is not…
Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development. If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage.Peck concludes then with a speculation about what falling in love is:
Peck concludes then with a speculation about what falling in love is:
Deepak Chopra cites what he calls a “key” concept: “When you fall in love, you fall for a mirror of your own most present needs. The intense desirability of another person isn’t innate in that person. Desire is born in the one who desires. ”Chopra’s observation brings us to the next logical question—the reverse of Peck’s question, if love is not “falling in love,” then what is it? With agape in particular (though I think also with eros and phileo), it is an act of will, a conscious, deliberate choice to love. We love because we choose to love, not because we stumble into it.
The Implications of Choice
The fact that we can choose to love means that it is possible to choose to love another person or persons regardless of whether or not we find them attractive or desirable. It is possible to love someone who ignores or rejects us or makes unreasonable demands on us. It is even possible to love someone who is our avowed enemy. It may not be likely that we would “fall in love” with our enemy, but as spiritually enabled children of God we have the freedom to choose to genuinely love those who do us harm. If this is not a possibility, it makes a mockery of Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spite-fully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) It is not without reason that this is often seen as one of the most difficult commandments, but it may also be one of the most essential, being at the very of heart of Jesus’ teaching.
>We are free to choose Love. As God’s sons and daughters we do not have to conform to the world’s way of response to those we identify as our enemies. We do not have to “get even,” or return insult for insult or hate for hate. We can choose to live our lives on a higher, nobler plane, on the plane of agape, Divine Love. By the grace of God and the power of his Spirit, we are enabled to choose.
But suppose our master, Jesus, had chosen the usual human response to his tormentors. It is said that he had at his command legions of angels. Could they have not wiped out the despised Roman legions, the recalcitrant Pharisees, and all those responsible for nailing him to the cross? But Jesus chose the way of agape instead. By accepting the cross, Jesus empowers us to do likewise, to actually love those who are nailing us to our own contemporary crosses. Jesus did not die in order that we might be freed from death or suffering, but that we might be free to love as he loved. The call of God is not to painless invulnerability, but to loving presence like that of our master, a presence not immune to pain, injury, rejection or death.
We have a choice. We need not be bound and manipulated by those who would inflict pain or even death on us. We do not have to cringe in fear before the “authorities.” We have the capability to love them with Divine Love, no matter what. We can “turn the other cheek,” not because we do not doubly feel the pain of being struck twice instead of once, but because, our Love for our enemy prohibits our striking back and we can accept the blows to our bodies without in any real sense of being diminished.
Agape, An Expression of God’s Grace
The grace of God becomes tangible to us in God’s Love. “By grace are you continually saved,” writes the Apostle Paul. “It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). We are “called by his grace” (Galatians 1:15) and we have received grace “exceedingly abundantly with faith and Love” (I Timothy 1:14). Further we are empowered with charismata, gifts of grace (I Corinthians 12:4), and are ourselves “stewards of the manifold grace of God”. (I Peter 4:10) And nowhere does our stewardship of the grace of God come more to the fore than in our choice to allow agape’ to become tangible through us. When we choose to love another, we choose to express God’s grace by his grace. It is his grace that enables the choice to Love and it is his grace made manifest in Love. Grace can be defined as “unmerited favor” and as “Divine assistance given to man.” We receive it but we do not earn it. We extend it through Love to others though they, too, do not earn it. In loving others with Divine Love we become channels of that grace which we ourselves have received. We become Divine Lovers.
Barriers to God’s Grace
When we choose to express God’s grace, to open ourselves to be its channel, we make no small choice. Apart from God’s grace, it is our natural inclination to erect barriers between other persons and ourselves. By erecting such barriers we hope to avoid the pain of their rejection. We also build barriers around those people and things in our lives we value most highly. We are possessive of our children and spouse. We lock our houses to keep out unwanted intruders and put our most treasured items in bank vaults where no one, not even we ourselves, can enjoy them. We invest in insurance and seek written guarantees that we will continue to possess that which we have accumulated.
We erect psychological barriers as well. We wear blinders that allow us to see only that which does not threaten our comfort or sense of security, blinders that keep us from seeing and feeling the suffering of those around us. That way we can sit comfortably in our warm, locked houses, surrounded by our possessions, reasonably safe from whoever may be standing without, hungry, shivering in the cold and desperate. That is, we can sit this way until God, in his infinite grace, breaks through our barriers, shatters our complacency, and exposes us to the unmitigated suffering of others created in his image, huddled on our own doorsteps—unmitigated because we will not open our doors.
Our barriers, which we have often spent years constructing, become a heap of rubble at our feet when we become Divine Lovers. Instead of being security conscious we become God’s fools, rashly allowing ourselves to be immersed by the moral, material, social and physical needs of the lepers who surround us. For them, we risk our own poverty and deprivation. For them, we risk becoming social outcasts. Why? Because the Love of God within us compels us. Having lost our blinders, all reality stands exposed before us, the sordid as well as the beautiful, the suffering masses as well as the prosperous and healthy, and moved by the compassion of God, we embrace it all.
It does not usually happen all at once. As God removes our blinders he also prepares us for what is coming. He does not do this by reinforcing the barriers. He prepares us by giving us his strength, his sensitivity and his wisdom. His gifts of grace—faith, healing, knowledge, and discernment—are given to enable us to meet specific needs. As God opens our eyes, he also opens our hearts, and that which is needed most by the people we meet—Divine Love—comes pouring out. We can’t help it. It’s there and it happens, when by God’s grace, we choose the way of Love.
Divine Love—agape’—is a decision. It is not something we fall into or fall out of. It is a decision to express the grace of God that we ourselves have abundantly received and of which we, as Divine Lovers, have become stewards. It is the decision to let our barriers fall, to stand naked in the chilling wind, becoming fellow sufferers with our Master and with humankind, and warming our needy brothers and sisters from the inside out.