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Vol. VIII • 1985

Where Did Love Fall?
David Haggith

Believing that Christian love is not an action borne of feelings but an action borne of the will, only makes loving others all the more difficult. Doing so says it is O.K. not to feel love for another human being it is O.K. to feel nothing at all or even revulsion so long as we act in love. That in itself is characteristic of our fallen nature: inwardly we harbor hatred while outwardly we act in love. We ignore our feelings because we do not know how to change them. Acting the way we feel would surely be wrong. So, to keep from living a contradiction between heart and mind, we assure ourselves that Christian love agape love does not arise from feelings; it is simply a willful action. But the Bible never says agape is without feeling. In fact, it is the most feeling and compassionate of all loves.

Nevertheless, we despise the grizzled drunk but treat him with appropriate outward love. We feed him, bathe him, try to dry him out, and we despise him. We know our heart's are not right. We know we should be more compassionate, and we wonder why we cannot love all people as God does. We blame it on pride and conclude that if we reminded ourselves more frequently of our own fallen nature, we would have a more compassionate heart. We would not feel so high above the drunk, and so we would be able to minister to him more sincerely. Yet, so long as we do not feel love, our feelings will drag on our actions.

No one wants to receive willful love. Willful love is only testimony to the strength of the one loving. It says, "I don't feel you're wonth my love, but God has told me to love you anyway. At best, it says, "I don't feel you're worth my love, but God has told me you are, and so I'll take his word for it." Love that is not supported by our feelings is patronizing. It does not offer much encouragement to the one loved d he knows that our love is coming from a determined action and not from a response within our hearts. I think it is time for Christians to quit excusing their feelings so easily.

Where did love fall? Someplace back in Eden. Once we chose not to trust in God, we lost trust in each other as well. In the end, God proved trustworthy, but we did not. For the first time we looked at our selves and did not like what we saw. Where there had been innocence and trust there was now guilt and suspicion. In our anger and humiliation love for each other eroded into revulsion, even hatred. Standing naked in front of each other, we saw dark and terrifying flaws we did not want exposed. We tried to cover them, but still we felt naked, and so we hid. We wanted our innocent love back, but the legacy of man is that we have never been able to trust each other enough to find it.

Quite frankly, our theology over the past centuries has perpetuated our difficulty in loving others from the heart. We have focused almost exclusively on the fallen nature of man. The result? The more we look at the fallen Adam, the man in the mire, the more revulsion we feel toward him. We've failed to recognize God's beautiful creation because we've chosen to focus on sin's David Haggith receives his mail at 3233 Pinewood Ave. Bellingham, WA 98225 corruption. Spiritual hypochondriacs, we have microscopically observed our own infections and failed to view the whole person. As a result, we mistook the infection for the person.

If we identify ourselves according to our sins, we will identify others the same way. This is exactly what we have done. In fear of pride, we have focused on our depravity until we are almost consumed by it. We have missed seeing the awesome beauty of humanity because our fear of pride caused us to look the other way. To cure our cancer we ate more carcinogens. We tried to find good by focusing on evil.

True, the Bible tells us human nature is depraved, but it also says many good things about people. The Bible is balanced, but our lopsided theology has overlooked half the truth. We have dwelt for centuries on what the Bible says about the depraved side of human nature but glossed over all it has to say about the good side the divine image embossed in every human being. The Bible says that God still loves his creation very much. Unless we are to assume God loves depravity, there must be more to humanity than our dark side. Since God loves what is good and hates what is evil, depravity cannot be an exhaustive definition of human nature.

As children, most of us were told at one time or another by one of our parents to look for the good in people an acknowledgement that there is something good to be found in everybody. As we matured spiritually, we feared that acknowledging anything good about ourselves was pride. So, when we sang a song in church and someone told us we had a beautiful voice, we said it wasn't really us singing but God singing through us. At first this was probably an innocently misaimed desire to glorify God. later we became secretly proud of the fact that we were humble enough to say it. Arrogantly humble, we began to put down all our natural abilities, claiming to be nothing, convinced that God was glorified by our wallowing. But it is unlikely that he was, because we were still focusing on ourselves instead of him.

For every credit we took off one side of the balance we added a burden to the other: whenever we did anything bad, we said, "Well, that's just human nature. So, human nature was always identified with evil. If it was good, it was God; if it was bad, it was us. By lowering ourselves, it appeared God grew higher in comparison. We believed the illusion and thought we were exalting him. Eventually we even discovered that focusing on our depravity made for great guilt motivation. And all this because we misunderstood what the Bible has to say about pride.

Pride as the Bible speaks against it is not a matter of thinking well of yourself. Paul did not say each one should think of himself as lowly as he can. He said, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.... Nor did he say, "In humility consider yourself as worse than others." He said, "In humility consider others as better than yourself." Likewise, Paul did not say, "Despise yourselves below one another." He said, "Honor one another above yourselves." He even went so far as to say "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to others (Gal. 6:4)." If we have tried to honor our neighbor by considering ourselves in the dregs, we have not gone very tar toward lifting him up. At best we have only made him top dreg. By sinking ourselves, others have been sucked down in the vacuum behind us.

Pride, in the arrogant sense that the Bible denounces, is seeing ourselves as better than we truly are having an overinflated opinion of ourselves or seeing ourselves as more significant than someone else. Man's spiritual pride is seeing himself as more significant than God. But to avoid such arrogance we needn't tall to the other extreme. We do not need to prove our love to God through the deep personal sacrifice of self-annihilation. In arrogance, we dance in the devil's hand. In base humility, we grovel in his hand. Neither is appropriate for a child of God.

How does all this apply to loving people? We cannot feel love for something we have been taught all our lives to despise. We have been taught that mankind is wretched half of a Biblical truth. Without the balancing portion of the truth, we will always see ourselves and others in that way only. As a result, we will never be able to love with the true feeling and compassion of agape love. We cannot give what we do not possess. If we do not love being human ourselves, we cannot love others who are also human. Ironically, it is not only our sinfulness that keeps us from deeply loving people, but also our theology. in that it focuses our attention primarily on our sinfulness. Perhaps it is an outcome of the darker side of our nature that even our theology is distorted. We have come to see all people as spiritually evil. God sees them as spiritually corrupted. There is a big difference.

To be totally depraved means only that every aspect of our divine image has been corrupted by the fall and not that every aspect of that image has been destroyed. When we talk about Abraham Lincoln being a better man than Adolf Hitler, we are acknowledging that there are degrees of corruption in humanity -that some people live farther from the devil than others. If it is true that some people could be worse than they are, then they cannot be totally bad. Even the devil knows he has not succeeded in turning people evil. II he had, he would not have to keep trying so fervently. There is something of God's divine image still visible in all of us, something he wishes to redeem that is. to restore to its original splendor.

The Bible confirms that it is special to be human. Only after God created mankind, did he call all that he had made very good. The Bible identifies sin as an intruder in our nature. Therefore, sin is not the basis for our identity. It is the corruption of it. As a born-again Christian, Paul said, "It is no longer I who sin, but sin that lives within me."

Some conclude from this that the Biblical basis for human worth is being a child of God: "It is not what you are but whose you are." That sounds good, but it leaves us with no basis for valuing those who are not yet children of God (in the adopted sense). In truth, becoming a child of God only reaffirms that value God has created in all human beings their intrinsic worth. The purchase price tells us the value of an object.

All people are valuable because they are of God's coinage stamped with his image though long out of mint condition. That is what God sees and wishes to redeem. He created us as creatures genuinely worthy of his love, by giving his own image, and then he let us decide whether or not we would love him in return. Martin Luther stated "God's love does not love that which is worthy of being loved, but it creates that which is worthy of being loved." Luther meant that until we are redeemed by Christ we are not worthy of his love, but that God creates something worthy of his love through redeeming us. The truth, however, goes beyond that. God created something worthy of his love from the very beginning.

When Luther was thinking of our being worthy of God's love, he was thinking of worthiness in respect to ourgoodness ourgood works. and so, of course, he did not think we came into God's love being worthy of it. But love is never earned. It is always a gift. We are worthy of God's love not because of what we do, but because of our created identity.

Human value exists in the intricacies of God's creation a value he has given us whether we are Christians or not, whether we choose to love him, deny him, or hate him. One of God's unconditional gifts to all people was the beauty he created in them. The credit goes to God, the by and thrill to the hearts of his people. We delight in the grandeur of his mountains. We should delight no less in the pinnacle of his creation. God created something he deemed too precious to see destroyed.

The tragedy of the image bearers is this.' They were intimately crafted by the hand of God into superb beauty, but each moment of their lives is bought with another wrinkle. They purchase time with a little death. They busy themselves creating, then must watch all their creations decay. They were created with great aspirations, and so they dream; but when they awaken their dreams dissolve. They fill their world with music and love to sing but often find themselves with little to sing about; and so the music fades, and the words echo with hollow sound. They have enormous curiosity to explore but then do not understand what they have discovered. Their spirits rise with hope and eager ambition, but they do not know what they are hoping for. They are created with a noble pride, which either inflates to arrogance or withers to despair. They reach for joy and cling to sorrow. They are created to love and with desire to be loved, to fill the earth and rule over it, to know their creator and walk with him. They are created for intimacy' with God, but do not know it. So, Goof's unconditional gift to us was ourselves, created with a multitude of beautiful qualities and grand ambitions, created such that he will always love us and desire us for his own. In giving so freely to us, he opened himself to a world of hurt, because, in return, we defied him. Now his conditional gift to us is himself the only condition being that we believe and accept.

Our theology has often skimmed over this side of being human. We have been taught, instead, to become hollow vessels, rather than free creative personalities who can respond to God in love. We have gone so far as to preach that if we empty ourselves of all personal worth, Christ will be glonfied and enter us more fully. Seeing what independence from God has done to us, we have tried to force feed ourselves with dependence by deflating ourselves to nothing. Our logic has been that if being overinflated is bad, being underinflated must be ideal. But our dependence on God should not be a negative thing something we strive for by making ourselves even more dependent. It is merely a fact we live with. If we ignore our dependence on him. we stray from him. On the other hand, if we try to increase it, we are throwing away all the strength he has already given us, and with it, all the joy of his gifts.

Humility can be either positive or negative. If we put others above ourselves, it is positive; it lifts others up. If we pull ourselves down, it is negative; we have turned our attention on ourselves and entirely missed God's point. Christ did not go around debasing himself. He did not make his life a drink offering, poured Out and wasted in the dirt. He poured out his life onus as an annointing oil. When we try to empty ourselves in order for Christ to fill us, we pour our oftering in the dirt. Christ does not ask us to become nothing. That is only Christian asceticism. What he does ask is that we give everything he has given us to the poor. Christlike humility is a pouring out for the sake of others, not merely for the sake of emptying ourselves. Nor does God delight in breaking the spirits of his people. He does it onlywhen in arrogance they have forgotten him (Jeremiah 48). Our spirits are made to soar, but to soar With him. Why do we find it difficult to feel agape in our hearts? Perhaps because we have not seen the people God created in the full light of his perfect word.

"Where Did Love Fall?"
CSSHS • Creation Social Science & Humanities Society • Quarterly Journal

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