Love Without the "BUT"...

In yesterday's post I wrote:

Most kind people would be kind as atheists, Buddhists, or Christians. They'd be kind no matter what. So what is Jesus actually doing? What CAN Jesus actually do? Can we start from scratch? Can we deconstruct and rebuild a new kind of Christianity that FIRST and FOREMOST seeks to build a new kind of human? I want to be a new kind of human. A better kind of human. In Christ, yes, but in the world for God's sake...


What would the fruits of this look like?

Romans 5:8 reads, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Christ died for his enemies. Will we die for our enemies?

Romans 13:8 reads, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law." Do we love everyone? Do we cancel their debts to us?

Romans 13:10, "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Love fulfills the law BECAUSE ("therefore") it does not harm its neighbor. Are we living and interpreting the law as a mandate for kindness to others?

Of course we've heard 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 plenty, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." Do we understand that when we subvert these fruits of love, we are in fact not loving (proud, rude, and easily-angered are common complaints about Christians)?

Here's the big problem with Christian culture and foxhole theologizing: we insert 'BUT' into every place LOVE is identified. It's like an obsessive-compulsive habit. We can't speak about love without saying, "but that doesn't mean..." such-and-such is ok. Or that I support this-or-that. Or that God is ok with... or that I'm supporting...


  • I LOVE YOU BUT YOU'RE WRONG.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT YOU'RE A SINNER.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT YOU NEED TO SEE THINGS THIS WAY...
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I CAN'T CONDONE THIS.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I'M NOT WILLING TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE FOR YOU.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT THIS IS THE WAY I WAS RAISED.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT YOU'RE QUEER.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I WON'T IGNORE THIS...
  • I LOVE YOU BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN I LIKE YOU.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I WON'T ADJUST MY CULTURAL LENS.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I WON'T CHANGE.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I WON'T COMPROMISE.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I'M RIGHT.
  • I LOVE YOU BUT I don't know what love means. And I don't know how to live it. And I don't know the first thing about sacrifice. And to be honest, it all scares the hell out of me because I've never heard ideas like yours. So maybe this is a first step...

If we can't say "I love you" without adding "but," then we probably shouldn't be saying "I love you" in the first place. And that first place is the starting place.

Oh yeah, and there's one final thing: "Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Mark 10:21. Damn...

6 comments:

Brandon K. Baker said...

Pete,

You hit the proverbial nail on the head once more. As PeeWee Herman once said, "but what? everyone I know has a really big but." Can we love our neighbor, our enemies without adding a but?

How radically would our "love" change?

Another great post Peter.

BKB

Peter said...

Oh man. I remember that Pee Wee scene. Sitting in the giant dinosaur head.

wilsonian said...

Another great post. Can I float out a question? That very last verse you use here (Mark 10: 21)... you know it really sounds to me like Jesus is saying "I love you but..."

No?

Peter said...

Oooh, that's very good Wilsonian. Yes, I guess love makes demands. But I choose to read this text in a way consistent with my personal understanding of who Jesus is.

There are a lot of scriptures that can be grabbed (just as I did, above) to make all sorts of points. And in truth, the Gospels are FULL of expectations of what comes with faith, and how love is manifested.

And perhaps in real relationship, there is a place for - not necessarily a "but" - but perhaps an addendum. Or an elaboration. Or a request. Or an observation.

"This is how love looks, in action."

My guess: the rich young ruler had a good heart, and wanted to follow Jesus. Mercifully, Jesus recognized that following him would mean giving something up that he (the young man) was not prepared to give up.

I see many/most/or all of Jesus' commands as either preparatory, or merciful.

Maybe I'm talking in circles, and I think ALL of this is gray to a degree - the Gospels are FULL of paradox, as is Jesus - but sooner or later we need to come to a view of God that is not based on proof texting, or even undeniable biblical argument, but on spiritual conclusions consistent with a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

I offer the above Romans texts, not as "proof" of my point, but rather as illustrative of what I feel I know in my heart. My heart tells me I have no business saying "BUT" to the folks I'm supposed to love.

Wilsonian, GREAT feedback. What do YOU think? Thanks,
Peter ;)

wilsonian said...

Yeah, I agree with your approach. This has been swirling around in my head all day. I'd like to come back after giving it a little more time...

Al said...

EXCELLENT post, Peter.
Perhaps the Mark 10 verse is, as you suggest, "I love you, and..." "I love you no matter what... If you truly understand my love, you will be best served by downsizing, and loving others sacrificially."

I am particularly touched by: "I LOVE YOU BUT THIS IS THE WAY I WAS RAISED."
I think that can fairly safely be followed by.. "But I am ready to listen, and change my mind." For me, at least, that helps level the playing field, perhaps explains what I am slow to adapt, but provides a safe place for both the 'lover' and 'lovee' to explore what is likely a very divergent viewpoint.

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