Monday, May 23, 2011

HOW LOVE WINS

Bell’s book stirred controversy. I’ve not read it and will likely do so, eventually, only out of curiosity. This is not a commentary on Bell or his book. Nevertheless, it has been a longstanding concern of mine that “love”, being a word that describes a foundational dimension of God’s character and the kingdom of God, be defined carefully, seeking to capture the Biblical picture in its fullness. I am of the opinion that Satan will attempt to distort things of such importance and that popular assumptions regarding love are quite deficient. In fact, I observe massive efforts from segments of the Christian community to redefine a great number of aspects regarding Christianity and some of this is based on shallow assumptions about the nature of love. Though we are never above reform and correction, any efforts to reform must be approached with maturity and wisdom or the results will weaken and devastate. The alarm's been sounded, the bell's been rung. Regardless of what Bell sets forth in his best seller, I would like to offer some thoughts about how love wins. I intend to offer a series of short articles that work toward this conclusion.

God is Love (1 John 4:8, 16)

Love is, indeed, the crowning moral characteristic of God. Love is a moral characteristic. It relates to what one does with the natural capacities one possesses. We should understand all of the other moral attributes of God as attributes of love. God intended that love be the crowning characteristic of the human race. This is true because we are created in the image of God. We possess all of the qualities and capacities needed for this to be our crowning characteristic. The practice or demonstration of love depends upon how one uses the qualities and capacities one possesses. The existence (practice or demonstration) of love requires moral freedom. Love cannot be coerced; one must be free to respond to others in love or refuse to do so. Love is not primarily a feeling, it is an intelligent resolve to purpose and pursue the highest good possible. When such a resolve exists, an intelligent evaluation of all factors associated with specific circumstances under address is in order. Love, therefore, is an extremely complex (not simplistic) action in which to engage. God consistently governs Himself and His kingdom by love. God is love.

A challenge we face is to grow in our understanding of love by navigating and combining ideas that are, in a sense, instinctive and data we gather from Scriptural revelation. Everyone has a sense of what love is. However, we must modify and correct our sense according to the revelation that God has given of Himself and of this issue.

Kindness and Severity (Severe Kindness) (Romans 11:22)

Many people have a very ethereal, fairy tale concept of love. The word “love” conjures up images of an encouraging smile, a supportive wink, a pat on the back and a Hallmark card; all positive, soft and sentimental – an all inclusive hug. This is what some refer to as “warm fuzzies” or sloppy agape. This is a very one-sided (if accurate at all) concept of love. Though 1 Jn.4:8 & 16 clearly state that “God is love”, Ro.11:22 says, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God.” This challenges us to understand that there is potentially a “kind” and a “severe” dimension to love. What does this mean and what does it “look” like? In the immediate context of the passage in question, it refers to being “cut off” or “grafted in” to God’s family. Depending on the circumstances and situations under address, love will take on varying degrees of either kindness or severity (what I often refer to as severe kindness). This is an extremely important perspective with which we must cope. Most people have little trouble relating to the “kindness” aspect of love but stumble quite severely over the severe aspect of love. A failure to consider the balance and range this perspective of love involves will lead to a very imbalanced and harmful concept of love in which “cutting off” is inconceivable. Consider the following visual aid.
In any situation addressed, love involves concluding where, in the range of possibilities, one should “fall” on this scale as all conditions are taken into consideration in order to promote the highest possible good. The upcoming article in this series will offer two illustrations intended to provide a degree of clarification to this consideration.
                                                                                                                                                             Severe Kindness

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