Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Did You Write the Book of Love?

A very long time ago I attended a Bible study class and learned about agape love. The class was a study on one of the books of the New Testament, but agape love was the thing I took from the time spent there.

Biblically speaking, agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Christian Bible.

The word agape is Greek, and variations of the word and its idea are found throughout the New Testament (about 200 entries). Agape love is the kind of love Jesus Christ has for his Father and for his followers.

It's a love that simply is. It is love that is not contingent on value or worth. It comes without thought, it is spontaneous, and it has no regard for whether or not love will be effective or appropriate regardless of the person or instance involved.

Agape love is love of all, for no reason other than they exist. A good description of agape love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. It is known by some as The Way of Love.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Christians are commanded to love others with agape love, whether they are fellow believers (John 13:34) or bitter enemies (Matthew 5:44). Two themes emerge from agape love. Number one, it is wrong and false to claim to love God and not love other believers. One cannot love God and not love others who proclaim to love Him, too - even if they are a different gender, race, or type of religion. Secondly, one cannot claim to love God and then not obey Him. That means that agape love is inextricably combined with  Galatians 5:14, which says: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

The word agape is associated with Christianity, but I think everyone has an obligation to attempt agape love.

Morally speaking, agape love is the kind of love people have when they work at the homeless shelters, offer up money for charities, or otherwise help someone. One does not have to be Christian to do any of those things.

One could say that public servants such as police officers, firefighters, and even teachers practice a form of agape love. Let's face it, not everyone wants to face a bullet, run into a burning building, or stand in front of a group of raging rug rats every day. It takes special people to do those jobs.

I felt like when I was writing for the newspaper that I was practicing my own version of agape love in my efforts to educate the public on the things that go on around them. When I wrote about the poverty rate in my community, or the need for gifts for the Angel trees, or took the time to research the reasons why about half of my county is considered a "food desert," I felt I was doing it out of love for my community. It didn't matter to me who read the story, but it did matter if the story moved someone so that they, in turn, might offer up assistance that I personally could not. After all, there is only one of me, but by writing an article, I could - and did - touch thousands. Some I moved to action and while that was gratifying, I was mostly grateful that people cared enough to reach out.

I knew there were readers out there who disagreed with me, but that was okay. Maybe the next article would be more to their liking. And some people are simply not able to care about others, for whatever reason. That is okay, too.

For some people, being a journalist has absolutely nothing to do with love, but to me it did. I suspect for many writers it is a way to show empathy and love. Not because journalists, writers, and artists point out foibles of others, but because we have a way to showcase need. In the case of celebrities, the opportunity to show agape love rests in the way the person acts on stage or screen, and since in our world such a person is pretty much on stage 24/7, his or her actions of daily life come under scrutiny. A person who tries to practice agape love in daily life recognizes that things like demeaning others, making demands, and trying to control the lives of those around him or her are not the actions of love.

This is true of everyone, really. If you love the world and try to act like it when you are in public, or online, or however you interact with others, people take note. Sometimes they don't even know they are taking note, but they do. You can learn a lot about someone simply by standing behind them in the supermarket checkout line.

I am not perfect. I get angry. I argue. I fight. I don't always readily forgive. I misunderstand. I don't feel well most days now and that makes it hard to be tolerant, because pain makes you think in ways you otherwise would not. I am no saint. I am not religious, actually, though I consider myself to be rather spiritual. I have great empathy for others, and I try very hard to be kind. I do not always succeed. I am human, after all.

The Internet has become a place where people make fun of others. This is not agape love. It has become a place where people fight and squabble because they have differing opinions, where name-calling is the norm and the last person on the thread is the winner simply because the other person gave up. This is not agape love.

This is just morally sick stuff that our society seems to be oozing out of every pore. The lack of empathy and the lack of agape love has created a very sad world.

Christians often say they are being criticized and that Christianity is under attack. I wonder if that is really true. Maybe what is under attack is the way the New Testament has been twisted so that agape love no longer means love. For some reason, many Christians in the public eye seem to think that love means hate and fear, divide and conquer. And that is the side that they show to the world, the side that is the opposite of agape love.

I do not understand this, because my New Testament says to do the opposite. It says to show agape love.

Some time ago there was a big saying: WWJD? What Would Jesus Do?

I think he'd sit down and have a good long cry, spend a lot of time figuring out how his words in the New Testament have been so misconstrued, and then work to start all over again.

1 comment:

  1. "For some people, being a journalist has absolutely nothing to do with love, but to me it did. I suspect for many writers it is a way to show empathy and love. Not because journalists, writers, and artists point out foibles of others, but because we have a way to showcase need. "
    And I say, Amen. I'm looking at all the events of late and wondering if this can be cured by agape, the love of God for his children.

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