We hear all these other things about who we are and what we’re supposed to be, but there is one place we all must start: Love beyond ourselves.
Of all things, we must start with love. It is our hermeneutic, our fundamental. Our North Star and compass. Love is the start and our predictor.
Most of us know this intuitively and act on it instinctively. We read from Scripture that “God is Love” and we see in Jesus the manifestation of love. We gather in fellowship to love each other and we seek to help others in love.
The problem is we encounter things which aren’t love. Or we discover there are those without a love hermeneutic. They have other fundamentals. Like power, certainty, and order. We find there are other ways to see God and the world besides love and we begin to question our own beliefs.
We see God slaughtering human beings in Scripture and we wonder how that can be love. And we see great devastation around us and we know that is not love.
These counter-examples make us question our own view of love or encourage us to manipulate our own understanding of love. We say
God has a different view of love. So love must mean other things.
And if we take it upon ourselves to act that kind of “love” out, we find ourselves redefining gaslighting as a kind of love. We make hatred into a kind of love and pass off the very destructive evils we despise as love.
And suddenly we find we’ve made a mess of everything again. Because if God is love, then what do we make of this?
If we don’t even know what love is, then how can we know God?
Arguments for Love
I recently made 31 arguments for love, fashioned off of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Like his, I started with a primary argument, developed it, dug into the problem we have with living it out, critiqued the church’s mistakes, and described how the church should change in light of it.
And it was reading the book October 31, 1517 by Martin Marty which showed me how the 95 Theses was all really one thesis argued 95 times in 95 ways:
Jesus called us to repent and turn toward God to receive mercy.
All the other stuff is the struggle with actually doing that. The ways the church interferes with this. The problem with our theological arguments. Even wrestling with the what we think is more important.
And as I read, I saw all the ways Luther was right. How his thesis was right. His critique was right. His instruction was right. On this one thing. And I also marveled on the way his enthusiasm got the best of him, his direction led to bad choices, and ultimately, how his followers slid down the slippery slope he offered them.
But it was the nature of what he offered: a positive vision and critique which compelled me. And it compelled me to write 31 Theses to argue for change in the church with the hope that we could find clarity in who we are and who we are meant to be.
So I wrote 31 arguments in 31 days on a single theme.
Love means relationships with others.
When we start with love, we start with relationship. That seems intuitive, but it runs in direct contrast to the primary focus of Protestantism.
A course correction
The problem with the modern era was that we became unaware of how much our worldview was intellectual. Everything was about the arguments for or against something. Little attention was paid to the lived experience.
For instance, we cared more about proving we agreed about the nature of God than we did about worshipping God together.
This is, of course, a historic problem, but it became acute after the Enlightenment and in the modernist period. So this blew a course correction in the 16th Century off course. And we need to correct course again in the 21st Century.
Western Christianity was hierarchical. So then we focused on the individual. A move which made so much sense at the time. It allowed both Catholics and Protestants to adjust to the modern era’s needs.
Rampant individualism, destruction of institutions, and the blatant disregard for ordering the world as the kin-dom of God has left individualism as great a sin as the power of the Roman church of 1517.
- It’s hard to see God as love when there is no connection of love.
- We can’t be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world when the only one we love is God.
- God doesn’t want all of our love.
In other words, God made relationship with us in Jesus and said
Jesus invites us to see these as linked and identical. Because the whole focus is relationship.
God isn’t just in the woods
And the same goes for us. Humans aren’t made for isolation, either. We are made to be social and to share intimately. Look for God among the people. Actually, look for God in the people.
Yes, yes, Christian communities have hurt people, I know! I didn’t say go to church. I just said to look for God in people.
Church is for gathering and learning and sharing and worshipping. We are called to gather together in love to help each other better understand what it is to love. So the church isn’t the only way to know God, but it is designed to facilitate that love.
And when church fails to do that, we have a choice:
- Change it.
- Find it somewhere else.
- Make it anew.
We aren’t stuck in sucky institutions. But the answer to a bad institution isn’t to get rid of all institutions. It’s to make our junk better. And while we’re there, make it so institutions don’t screw people over the same way.
That’s love. Fixing the problems to protect others. Transforming unjust systems and bringing love to places where hate and distrust reign. Making Christian community with anybody because love is our guiding principle, not certainty or control.
We start with love because God is love. All the rest is just noise.