Monday, August 6, 2007

The Other Side

Talking about the earlier question, "Did Jesus love the Pharisees?" I found some references to the same subject in comments to Everyday Mommy's latest Thursday Thirteen that led me in one direction. Then, as I started following up on the research side, I found verses leading in another direction:

Matt. 5: 43-48: You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I have to confess - I don't understand this part. I don't know how anyone can do this, and I guess the conclusion that leads to is that, on our own, we can't. I think that was part of the point Jesus was making in the Sermon on the Mount - no matter what semantics come into play about whom to love, or what love means, this is really what is intended. I also think that He knew we can't on our own, and that He came because we need Him to be perfect, even as God is perfect.

I found an interesting take on this by a guy named Chip Bell. He writes, "Jesus says, I know that justice is important to you. I know that it hurts when you’ve been wronged. But be careful. There’s a danger here. Never let your thirst for justice turn into a quest for revenge. Don’t get even. You’ve been attacked and cheated and forced and taken advantage of. But answer the evil with kindness and generosity. And then leave everything else to God."

I know that seems to mix a desire for retribution with a lack of love - that's why I said this was not going to be about easy answers. The "head" answer to this is that, of course, Jesus loved the Pharisees, since He died and rose again to draw all men to Himself. But, even though He loved them, they made evil and purposeful choices that contradicted God's law.

One of the examples I see in the Old Testament is the story of Manasseh. He was the son of Hezekiah, and for the first portion of his reign, he was one of the most wicked kings of Judah - kind of like the Adolph Hitler of his day. The Bible says, "He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger." 2 Chronicles 33:6.

But Manasseh was captured by the Assyrians, and in his distress, he called out to God to save him. "When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God." 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.

It didn't happen with every wicked king, or even with every wicked person, but it happens. And I think the answer to the question "Did Jesus love the Pharisees" has to be "yes." No matter how evil we (or other people) may be, God's love is still there and is available to anyone who asks. I also think that, because God's love is there, if those who have done evil to others are forgiven by God, then God also can give the power of forgiveness and healing to those who were hurt by that evil.

Jesus said that He had come to draw "all" men to Himself. "All" - not just the ones that don't do evil things. Romans 5:8 says that God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were still in our sins, Christ died for us.

The earlier verses in that chapter of Romans were always a little mysterious for me. The passage that starts "tribulation works patience" was kind of a catch-phrase: don't pray for patience, because you're just asking for tribulation! Fear of tribulation or trials, though, kept me from really reading the rest of the passage:

"And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations (sufferings), knowing that tribulation (suffering) brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:3-5.


One thing I learned years ago: when the Bible says "hope" in this context, it isn't talking about the kind of hope that says "I hope I get [whatever] for Christmas" or "I hope this works out." It's the expectation of something that will come because it was promised. It's more like "trust" or "confidence." God's love can be trusted - it will not harm us or abandon us, and the Holy Spirit is the means by which God's love is "poured out within our hearts."

The same God whose love caused Jesus to come and die for my sins and to restore fellowship between God and me loves all people, even those who violate His laws and His people. His love is there - for anyone to accept or reject.

I don't know how to love like that. I'm almost afraid to say that I want to learn, because I guess I'm afraid of whom God will send me to love, but that's probably where the trust has to come. I don't think that the type of love intended is the doormat variety - that doesn't square with what I read in Proverbs or Ecclesiastes or some of the other passages that talk about wisdom.

But at the same time, I think that's part of why there are also recorded in the Bible stories of Jesus clearing the temple of the moneylenders and chastizing the Pharisees - to show that there are times to be tough, even with those you love.

I've written before that I don't trust answers that come too easily or too quickly. This hasn't been easy or quick, even if it seems like it might have been. And frankly, just because I can articulate this stuff doesn't mean I can do it! But at least the concepts have form - they're not just thoughts floating in and out of my head every now and then. Definitely a starting point. Thanks for coming along with me.

[All quotations from, New American Standard Version].

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