“The Fickle Nature Of Love“
I found out early last week that a young man, Reggie, who was in our corps youth programs a few years ago was arrested for the murder of a 15 year old kid. I found myself going through an interesting thought process as I sought to make sense of the needless act of violence. My first thought was, “What could I have done better as a person who had influence on this young man’s life that may have changed where he is today.” I then was immediately ashamed of the thought. Because I, like so many of us, had made the whole situation about me instead of others. So then I thought about Reggie. And I thought about where he was at that particular moment.
At the College for Officer Training we, as has been a long standing tradition, went to the Cook County Jail during Christmas time to sing some carols and do a little devotional for the occupants. My small group had an interesting time as we were sent to a cell block that was much smaller than those visited by our other groups so we were finished much more quickly. So they sent us to a group of individuals who were just finishing being processed and awaiting a more permanent cell assignment. It was one of the more profound moments of my Training for me.
These (mostly) young men were just then realizing the gravity of their situations. Most of the others in the cell blocks we had already visited had been there for quite some time. Even though it was a jail and not a prison some, we were told, had been there in the process of their trial and, therefore, in that jail for over 10 years. But these young men we were sent to had just been arrested hours before. We quickly realized this wasn’t the place for some flippant Christmas carols and a message that would, no doubt, fall on deaf ears. So we put the music and message aside in favor of individually speaking with each person who wanted to talk. Almost every one of them was in the same mindframe – shock at the prospect of where a good deal of their future may be taking place.
And I thought about Reggie in those young men’s shoes. We had gone to Stateville Prison as well while at CFOT and had met all the men who had (mostly) come to accept their sentences. But, if Reggie was like those young men who were just finishing processing, he was a long ways away from a peaceful frame of mind.
So I wrote Reggie a letter. It wasn’t long or particularly articulate, but I really felt led to tell him two things: I love him and God loves him. Nothing about the arrest or the trial, just a short message of love. I don’t know if Reggie truly murdered that 15 year old boy, but I do know that I love him and that God loves him.
Which led me to the shame I felt after mailing the letter. Maybe shame isn’t the right word. It was more a reflection on the fact that I had mailed that letter without much thought for the deceased 15 year old or his family and friends.
The article that talked about Reggie’s arrest said that the arrest came with “the help of the community and social media.” So I looked up Reggies facebook profile and saw that he had, indeed, posted something about the 15 year old’s death – expressing shock and dismay at the thought of losing someone whom he called a friend.
His post was shared dozens of times, all from people who were outraged by his alleged audacity at posting something feigning innocence and ignorance when he may have pulled the trigger. One comment was particularly interesting as it was filled with expletives and hate towards Reggie and ended with the innocent comment, “My prayers are with the [deceased’s] family.”
Now I know that not all who use that last phrase are practicing Christians and it could just be a kind sentiment not meant to convey actual spiritual convictions, but I was struck by the seemingly two-faced nature of the comment. On the one hand tearing apart and expressing hate while simultaneously expressing compassion. I won’t say that it shocked me. Nor will I say that I can’t imagine how someone could do that but, implicitly, I think my subconscious was saying to me that I would NEVER say something that duplicitous.
I’m writing this right now as my wife is in the hospital with a beloved congregant because she was, just minutes ago, physically assaulted, maybe with a gun, and maybe raped. And as a reasonably well balanced person I’m more than a little disturbed to have been sitting here contemplating going over to the residence of her attacker and sharing a piece of my mind and, perhaps, my fists. This urge has been tempered by the understanding that the attacker has been taken into police custody but this understanding has NOT tempered my anger and maybe even hatred towards this man.
So now I ask myself, “What’s the difference between this attacker and Reggie?” Should I not be just as outraged at Reggie for allegedly taking the life of a teenager? Will I be writing a letter to this attacker telling him that God and I love him? The obvious difference is in the knowledge and relationship that I have with the victim of tonight’s attack and with Reggie. Because I know them and not the 15 year old boy or the attacker of my congregant, I am more prone to love and forgive them than I am those I don’t know.
It’s a double standard, I know. And it’s based on no rationality and I even acknowledge that it’s wrong and sinful for me to hate the attacker of my friend. And I think, more than anything, it boggles my mind as I attempt to grasp the mind of God and the measure of his love and forgiveness.
I think I finally understand where some of the 1st century Jews must have come from in their incredulity at the inclusion of the Gentiles into the family of God. How can God offer forgiveness and love towards them?
I am a very loving person (though I don’t often express it in any grandiose way) and yet it is very difficult for me to find the love within myself for the attacker of my congregant because I know what he has done to my friend. And to think that God, knowing the heart and actions of this man would still have love for Him makes no sense to me because I seem to be incapable of doing it myself.
And so I know that this offers no new insight. It’s almost a cliche to say that God loves you no matter what you’ve done. He loves Reggie. He loves the duplicitous writer of the facebook post. He loves the family and friends of the 15 year old boy. He loves my congregant. He loves her attacker. And he loves me, even though I struggle to always love them and myself for having conflicting thoughts.
None of this is particularly revelatory except when I think that I, as a pastor, have the capability of harboring hatred in my heart. It was naive of me to think that any massive change would happen to make me impervious to hatred or sin in general when the trim on my shoulders turned red. But it scares me to think that these feelings may be in the hearts of my fellow pastors and officers. And we may think little of these feelings because we implicitly believe they’re somehow outweighed by our “holiness” and righteous deeds.
So it’s to us that Paul is writing the entirety of Romans 2. But specifically verses 17-29.
1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to each person according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.
12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
17 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, 18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.
25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Thank you, God, for verse 11 – for showing no partiality towards or against us. Forgive us for the times that we fail to feel and, even more, to show that impartiality to others.
I want, dear Lord, a love that cares for all. A deep strong love that answers every call. A love like Thine, a love divine, a love to come or go. On me, dear Lord, a love like this bestow1.
Create in me a loving heart, that people may see your impartial love through me.
In His Service,
1 George Galloway Jackson. I want, dear Lord. SASB#426