Love, Compassion, & Empathy . . .

“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.‘ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:29-34)

Do you ever think about what “Love” really means? I do.

There is lots of baggage on what we understand about loving–lots of qualifiers… “if they agree with me,” “if they look and act and live like me,” “if they go to the same church, denomination, religion, or school as me,” “if they work for a living, if they have a nice home, if they’re industrious, if they never ask me for anything, if they clean up after themselves, if they smell good and act “normal,” “if they don’t sleep around, get drunk, do drugs, or get violent,” “if they stay on their side of the fence, if they stay in their own neighborhoods, if they accept my ‘charity’, if they act grateful when I do something for them, if they speak the same language…” The list of qualifiers is endless. And they’re all sinful.

For most of my life, I have understood that Love was something unattainable without the qualifiers. It’s a penance, an “ideal,” to be talked about and lauded, but impossible to actually live out. It’s an altruistic achievement reserved for dead saints and Jesus.  I don’t think I’ve met 20 people in my entire life who live or have lived the kind of love that Jesus said was absolutely necessary for membership in His family.

That’s not a condemnation; I count myself among the confused. But today, I listened to an interview with Paul Ekman, a brain scientist, and the Dalai Lama on The Science of Happiness on NPR’s Weekend America, and I received a deeper understanding of what Jesus meant when He said we are to Love. Their jointly-authored book, Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion, discusses the value of unbiased compassion, and the obstacles that anger, prejudice, racial and ethnic hatreds, violence, and contempt create in the human mind, heart, and brain to human happiness.

I’m going to listen to that interview again, and I will probably buy the book. I can accept the fact that a Buddhist monk and a brain scientist may have a better understanding of how to love than I do. What I can’t accept is letting my rejection of their wisdom and my self-righteous phariseeism stand in the way of growing in love and compassion. He’s called me to a higher place than that.

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!

This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (1 John 4:7-21)

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28.)

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