Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Boundaries of Love - Week 4 - Small Group Study

The Boundaries of Love: Love isn’t a Doormat, but it may be a Stepping Stone

by JM

Is “Love” masked exploitation?

Upon reading verses such as “Love is patient, love is kind…it always protects, trusts, hopes, preservers. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4 & 7), some have concluded that the contents of this chapter are not so much a recipe for a good marriage or healthy relationship, but for exploitation. Friedrich Nietzsche more than once made statements like this:

"I regard Christianity as the most fatal and seductive lie that has ever yet existed--as the greatest and most impious lie…”
Nietzsche’s rationale for this scathing declaration was rooted in what I perceive in the following areas. The Christian ethic, namely, the Christian notion of love is:
•foreign to nature
•an assault on individual expression
•an assault on personal fulfillment
•an endorsement and reinforcement of the slave ethic.
The believer readily admits that agape love is foreign to nature; nature here being clearly defined as creation in the throes of a curse - a curse that moves humans imprinted in the image of God to bite, kick, scratch, harm, maim, and murder like their animal subordinates who have no divine imprintation. Nietzsche has got us on this one.

The Christian readily admits that agape love is an assault on individual expression; it tells them to stop biting, kicking, scratching, harming, maiming, and murdering when you want to give vent to your “nature.” Nietzsche has got us on this one too.

Now, we’re a little bit more cautious to conceding to Nietzsche the third accusation: agape is an assault on personal fulfillment. Certainly we would admit that turning the other cheek doesn’t pay immediate dividends of pleasure. However, Nietzsche would be the first to concede that within his own experience, there are certain pleasures that may be immediately experienced and enjoyed by someone, yet that same pleasure may be an obstacle to a greater pleasure that yields greater satisfaction that is gradual, not immediate. I derive immediate pleasure in watching TV. However, to turn off the TV and discipline myself to practice an instrument or read a book sets the stage for great satisfaction - a satisfaction that may be delayed. In the same way, agape is an assault on the pleasure of personal fulfillment. But agape says that pleasure of self-absorption is inferior to the pleasure experienced in communal engagement - a pleasure that pays dividends gradually.

Lastly, the believer refuses to accept the last charge: the Christian ethic of love is pure exploitation that those in power wield to paralyze their subjects. True love, Paul insists, is zealous about fairness and truth.

Love Delights In and Upholds Justice and Truth

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:6-7
Paul declares to the Corinthian church that Love is Zealous for:

•Right Living (Justice) – the opposite of evil
•Right Thinking (Truth) – the opposite of falsehood.
Which is to say, whatever “patience, kindness, trusting, believing, hoping, enduring” mean, it can’t be taken to exclude notions of justice and truth. I would even suggest that it is quite likely that the Corinthians believed that Love somehow excluded the emphasis on right living and right thinking. Paul seems to be referring to something that this church is doing which they suppose to be loving, pure, holy, right, good, but upon apostolic examination, they are delighting in evil and rejecting the truth.

Corinthian Love: Delighting in Evil and Rejoicing in Falsehood.

In some chapters earlier, Paul sharply rebukes the church for tolerating the sexual immorality of a particular member of their church. Paul says that they had become arrogant and boastful about this matter. At first this seems odd that a church would boast in the clear violation of Scripture in their midst. But upon further examination, it is easy to see how the church settled for pseudo-love believed to be biblical. A love that

•Celebrates individual expression, no matter what it is.
•Embraces and does not challenge wrong living
•Embraces and does not challenge wrong thinking
•Is non-judgmental
•Is non-confrontational
•Is intolerant of intolerance
This is a notion of love prevelent today. It’s a love that labels Jerome Pinn “unloving" and "intolerant”:

“Graduate student Jerome Pinn checked into his dormitory at the University of Michigan to discover that the walls of his new room were covered with posters of nude men and that his new roommate was an active homosexual who expected to have partners in the room. Pinn approached the Michigan housing office requesting that he be transferred to another room. Listen to Pinn's own description of what followed: "They were outraged by this [request]. They asked me what was wrong with me--what my problem was. I said that I had a religious and moral objection to homosexual conduct. They were surprised; they couldn't believe it. Finally, they assigned me to another room, but they warned me that if I told anyone of the reason, I would face university charges of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." Click Here
The Intolerable Compliment: Loving People Enough to Confront

Paul pays the Corinthians the Intolerable Compliment. For Paul,

•Love doesn’t celebrate individual expression no matter what
•Love challenges wrong living
•Love challenges wrong thinking
•Love is compelled to make judgments about moral issues
•Love is compelled to confront.
C.S. Lewis coined this the Intolerable Compliment. He explains:

“When people talk about the goodness of God these days, they almost exclusively mean his love. And by love, we almost always mean his kindness – the desire to see others than the self happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, no so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven - a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’”
Later on he would say that kindness, on its own, is somewhat indifferent about whether the object loved is good or evil. As if to say, “if embracing evil and rejoicing in false hood makes you happy, then embrace it.” Love peers beyond this false happiness and sees that if evil and falsehood are embraced, it will lead a person to their utter misery. Love confronts with a person’s well-being in mind.

Lewis would illustrate this facet of God for us by using the illustration of how an artist feels for an artifact:

An artist working on a sketch merely to please a child is content to leave it as it is, even though it isn’t exactly how he wants it. An artist working on his magnum opus will take endless trouble - and give endless trouble to the picture if it were alive. “One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only the picture made for the child (a stick figure). In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but less love.
Loving People to Life

We are called to pay the intolerable compliment to one another – we love them so much that we will confront when necessary.

Proverbs 27:5 - 6 Open rebuke is better than secret love. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

Psalm 141:5 Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head; Do not let my head refuse it, For still my prayer is against their wicked deeds.
To ensure that we’re not loving people to death by an unrestrained regard for truth and justice, we must answer these questions:

•Do I receive the intolerable complement when made by others. “I can give it, but not receive it?”
•Do I put much prayer and thought before confrontation?
•Do I know the person well enough?
•Do I have enough information?
•I’m I tethering truth with love and humility?
•I’m I being Punitive or Restorative?
•I’m I willing to go through the complete process of restoration?
Loving People to Life by Death

To love people to life, we are called to die. We are called to lay down our lives in paying the intolerable compliment. Sure, we’re not called to be a doormat, but sometimes we’re called to be a stepping stone for others. There’s nothing more difficult, nor more loving then bearing with someone’s dysfunction, sin, and character flaws as they make movements of progress, and relapse, and movements of progress, and relapses. But that’s precisely 1 Corinthian 13 love.