The older I get, the more I realize why Jesus said that the law and the prophets can all be summed up in . . . . love. The problem with love, “twue wove,” is that it’s hard, as in really difficult. That’s because love means a certain dying to self, and we fallen, sinful creatures are quite fond of our selves. We are loathe by nature to see anything as not about us, our pleasure, our feelings, our desires, and on that goes. This brings to mind a story I recount in the book about learning this painful truth about love and my sinful self-centered self, and something I’ve used on my kids many times as they’ve grown up. I heard the phrase of this post’s title on a podcast recently, and it captures well the end to which love brings us: Right Relationship. The story recounts one among many ways God has tried to build this into my life.
When I got out of college I had a penchant for getting jobs with women co-workers or bosses who annoyed me to no end. My young, immature self thought this was unfortunate. I don’t like being annoyed. Why can’t everyone just be likable and cuddly, like your favorite pet dog. Then I went off to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and much to my chagrin there were annoying people there too! But at least I got a wife out of it, and a degree. But it was my first job out of seminary where God decided to slap me up side the head; I guess I don’t get subtle. Of course I end up working with a young lady who, you guessed it, annoyed me. Common, Lord, seriously? And then, I’m embarrassed to admit, but I asked him like a little whiny toddler, “Why, Lord, do you keep making me work with people I just don’t like!” Or some such blather, and his answer, which I heard as if it were out loud . . . . “So you can learn to love them, you idiot.” Maybe not the last part, although it was obviously true.
I don’t know how many times over these twenty-something years I’ve used this on my kids. They would come to me complaining about people and situations that were driving them nuts, and I would ask them if they knew why this was happening. They would often reply, “To make me miserable!” Hmmm, wrong answer. The right one they didn’t want to hear: So you can learn how to love them! I would add, either God is sovereign and all powerful, and Romans 8:28 is true, or he’s not and it isn’t. You know the verse:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Notice that not everything is good, but that God works all things to that end, our good which is his glory. What an incredibly powerful way to go through a life filled with “thorns and thistles” (a la Genesis 3), with obstacles and frustrations a daily occurrence. None of them, including people, are meant to make our lives misery, but to sanctify us! Talk about hope, and lives filled with meaning. The issue becomes, do we trust him. If we don’t, negative emotions abound and likely anger toward God, a reason that causes many people to walk away from God. If we do, it’s all constructive.
Which brings me back to why I like the phrase Right Relationship so much. Relationships sour because of that self thing I mentioned above. By nature our self is immersed in sin. A Latin phrase perfectly captures the essence of sin, one Augustine and Luther emphasized in their teaching: Incurvatus in se. Or to be turned or curved inward on oneself. Almost all misery in life can be traced back to that inward curve. That’s why I use a phrase my kids initially hated, but have come to embrace: It’s not all about you! what? It’s not? No. When we understand that the very essence of God’s kingdom and our life in Christ is not about us but about loving God and others, you get a glimpse into the ministry of Right Relationship. What appears so incredibly difficult turns out to be much easier than we thought. Which helps us to understand Jesus’ answer to the question about the greatest commandment:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Relationships create friction, and love utilizes that to sharpen our rough edges. In that way love is very much about us, just not in the way we naturally think. Without it, Right Relationships can’t happen. With it, they will.