There are some people who, quite frankly, are impossible to love. You can’t dig deep enough, can’t try hard enough, can’t believe enough, and can’t go far enough to make it happen. And I’m not talking about the likes of Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson, either. If only a few such sinister creatures existed, then the world could sing together one great chorus of “Kum Ba Ya,” and move on to the Promised Land.
No, the unlovable are everywhere, and they are fairly normal people, not sinister monsters who challenge our capacity to love. Bosses, coworkers, in-laws; your rival on the field, in the boardroom, or in the marketplace; your ex-spouse. The guy who cut you off in traffic. The obnoxious mother at your kid’s Little League game. There are some real jerks in the world, and they aren’t too interested in becoming kinder, gentler, more loving people. The irony in all of this lack of love is that your personal ability to love others has nothing to do with them. And it has nothing to do with you. See, you can’t make yourself love other people, and you can’t make them more loveable.
Real love, if it is love, comes from God. So, if the unlovable people we encounter are going to be objects of any level of affection – and I’m not talking about hot, fiery emotion but genuine, gracious concern – then love is something that God must do through us, to us, and for us – and for others. It’s not something we can produce on our own. Instead, we must get to know God better; be more receptive to the Divine; become more trusting of who God is and what God can do, and less confident in our own limited abilities. The more this relationship deepens, the more of God’s love we experience; and the more of God’s love we experience, then the more loving we become.
So if we start with the source of love, rather than starting at a hoped for outcome and work backwards, we get what we really need, and we are empowered to become people who are patient, kind, and unselfish. We become the kind of people who, as the ancient Church Father Clement of Alexandria put it, “practice being God,” for “God is love” (as the Apostle John put it), and those who know God best love the deepest. But doesn’t that seem counterintuitive to much of what we witness in the world of faith? Those who know God best love the deepest? This would appear not to be the case. To hear the tale told, those who know God best are those who are the most doctrinally entrenched, the most committed to their particular dogma, denominationalism, or neo-puritanism.
Those who claim to know God the best are often the most inflexible, stubborn, and most difficult with which to work. Those who are the most “spiritual” can simultaneously be the most ungracious and unloving. Yet, this is a horrible oxymoron, inconsistent with a genuine relationship with God. I interact with people all the time who think the solution to Christianity’s contemporary troubles is “more.” We need “more doctrinal statements; more declarations of what we believe, more clarification of right and wrong, more lines to determine who is in and who is out.” I would agree that the answer is “more,” for sure. But it is more God, resulting in more love, and that will make the difference.
The objections to such conclusions I hear all the time as well: “If we only focus on love, we’ll wander into all manner of error and heresy,” some will say. Maybe. But we cannot ignore the fact that the greatest act of sacrilege has nothing to do with doctrine. The greatest act of sacrilege is the failure to love one another. We might have all of our doctrinal “T’s” crossed and our authoritative “I’s” dotted, but if we aren’t allowing the love of God to flow through us to others, then we have a lot of practice still to do.