It Needs to Look Like Love

August 20, 2014
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berrytheme_com_5545Yesterday, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

How would you advise someone whose lover a) demands strict adherence to a set of rules or else, and b) uses life’s disappointments and tragedies as ways of getting their attention, and c) claims to have stood by as a murder took place–when they could have stopped it–in an attempt to somehow prove their enduring love?  As I write this, it seems impossible that this person would still be in love with such a lover, but they are.  Thoughts?

I received a number of smart and sensitive replies and good advice.  And I received private messages from people who gathered that I meant it as a metaphor for the Gospel of Christ.  This is ALMOST true.  But more correctly, it is a metaphor for the way in which the message of the Gospel is often framed and delivered by modern Christians, and my grave concerns about this image of God.

Like in the above vignette, Christians often teach that:

a) The Bible is the infallible Word of God, and that He is displeased when His rules are not followed, some of which result in His eternal wrath through everlasting punishment in hell.

b) Tragedies can be seen as God’s way of getting our attention.  A few years ago, for example, a family member lost a dear friend to an early death.  In the depths of her grief, another family member (and a pastor) told her–on Facebook(!)–that “God is trying to get your attention.”

c) God allowed His son to be crucified so that the rest of humankind could experience God’s love for eternity.

In response to my post, comments from believers and non-believers alike used the following words to describe the human relationship I had presented: sad, sick, unhealthy, manipulation, and flat-out wrong.

So, given my sincere request for advice, I offer this to my readers.  If your view of the Lover of your soul is as the church often presents it above, I invite you to revisit what you believe, and why.

At such an invitation, the temptation is often to say something about human logic being too weak to grasp God’s ways.  And to some extent, I agree.  I am a big believer in–and lover of–faith.  The notion that we could fully understand the height, weight and depth of Deity is ridiculous at best, and tragic at worst.  If we can put God in a box and carry Him around, what good is He?

However, we are invited to know what love looks like, what it feels like–and how it differs from hate, manipulation, and abuse.  The distinction often requires a balanced combination of somatic and intellectual wisdom.  When we rely purely on feelings to discern love, we run the risk of unhealthy relationships, and we ultimately suffer consequences and pain.  And often, the excuse that human logic is weak is actually just lazy.  You have been given a brain and wonderful tools for study and understanding.  Use them.  I won’t tell you what to believe, but I will challenge you to know why you believe it.  Please examine each of the three points carefully.  

But the main reason I asked for the advice on Facebook was to invite my Christian friends to reconsider how they frame the message of the Gospel of Christ.  

Too often we claim to “love people as they are,” but then if we discover something we don’t like, or that is not in the rule-book, then that “love” disappears–suggesting it was never love in the first place, but rather admiration for another like-minded, like-acting person.

When others see our love, it needs to look like love.  It’s not love just because we say it is.

2 Responses to It Needs to Look Like Love

  1. Sharran
    August 20, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Nathaniel, my thoughts exactly. 🙂

    • August 20, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      Sharran, Thanks for this. Let us continue to spread the love we hold dear. –N

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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