Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mutually Inclusive

Jesus loves you, and you love Him. And we ought to love one another. 

But what is love?

Somewhere, we've gotten the idea that love is mutually exclusive; that it simply cannot exist with certain other things, or perhaps any other thing. Love cannot exist with anger. I cannot be mad at you and still love you. Love cannot exist with grief. I cannot mourn and also love. Love cannot exist with forgiveness. I can either forgive you or I can love you, but I can't do both. Love cannot exist with sin. You cannot be a sinner and think I'm going to love you. We even have it in our heads that love cannot exist with either grace or mercy. If you require either of these from me, then you must have these gifts first. Then, perhaps, I can love you at another time, but I cannot love you in the midst of grace. 

It's how we end up preaching to people more than being with them. It's how they get the idea that our rules are more important to us than our love. It's how they come to think that even Jesus is only love when everything else is in its place.

It's sad, really. But it's the story we're living. And if we're not the ones doing the broken loving, we're the ones fighting for broken love. We're the ones pretending we don't need all the other stuff - we don't need grace, mercy, forgiveness - if we could just have love. We're the ones pretending that love need not be whole or pure in order to be real love. We're the ones who, in the face of love, spend our time confessing our brokenness, proclaiming all of the reasons that we are unlovely. Because if we can't have love and grace, at least we can make love feel like grace. If we can't have love and mercy, then maybe at least love can be mercy for us. 

And all of a sudden, love is a different kind of gift. It's not love any more. Not really. But it's something nonetheless. It's meaningful in a different way. 

Still we're longing to be loved.

This is what we're doing to others, too. We're making love another thing by declaring it mutually exclusive. I can't love you if you're a sinner, but I can pretend to love you and call it mercy. I can't love you if you and I disagree on some idea or issue somewhere, but I can pretend to love you and call it grace. I can't love you if I'm mad at you because love and anger just can't co-exist. Or how about this - I can't love you if I also hate you. Because clearly, love and hate simply cannot be.

But love is not really this way. Real love isn't, anyway. Real love, the kind of love that God offers us, the kind of love we're longing for, the kind of love we ought to offer each other isn't mutually exclusive. It's mutually inclusive. It embraces literally everything about you and loves you anyway. It engages every fiber of your being and pulsates with love.

Love runs deeper than all of these other things. Love is like the water table of our lives. No matter what's happening on the surface, no matter what the terrain is going through, no matter whether it's hills or valleys or desert or forest or urban jungle, just below the surface of everything runs this steady stream of love. No matter where you are in this world, love runs beneath you. This life-giving, sustaining force runs in streams below all of life as we know it. 

And this means that love is compatible with just about everything. Even sin. Even anger. Even grief. Even grace. Even mercy. Even hate. Yes, love is even capable of dwelling with hate. (We always say this, but we struggle to live it. We always say that we "hate the sin, love the sinner," but we're really no good at it. It's possible, but we're no good at it.) We have to stop pretending that it isn't.

We have to stop pretending that love is a lesser thing. That love takes its cues from something else. No, everything else in the known and unknown universe takes its cues from love. Love is what's most true about anything, for everything that has ever been has come from Love Himself. And therefore, there is a thread of love that runs through everything. A single thread of love that bounds all creation together. 

So love somebody. Love all of them. Embrace everything about them. Stop passing off love as grace or mercy or something less. Love is the greatest thing. It's the truest thing. And it leaves nothing out. mutually inclusive. 

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