Monday, December 27, 2004

A New Command

The Christian Right is extremely adept at drawing on the Ten Commandments and the Leviticus codes to explain whom God abhors and detests. Politically, the Right is then able to align the Liberal agenda with all of those things that God hates in order to attract religious voters. Besides distorting Liberal values and the intent of, say, the Leviticus codes, they only tell half of the story of God's character. (I may try to pick up the Leviticus issue much, much later; I'm not sure I'm up for the hate mail just yet...)

One of the major problems is that the Right neglects to paint the picture of an amazing God who is jealously in love with us. I’m not making this up! There are many places in the Bible where the prophets use metaphors of loving human relationships to help us understand how passionately God loves us and how desperately he wants us to love him back. One of the most poignant examples is the book of Hosea.

Hosea is a prophet who was given a very tough job: God commanded him to take for himself an adulterous wife. The first few chapters of Hosea’s story read like a (depressing) romance novel: He loves her; she cheats on him and breaks his heart. He goes after her to win her back; she becomes a prostitute and begins sleeping with more and more men. But Hosea is in love -- even after she goes as far as to sell herself into slavery, Hosea pays her debt and brings her back home to live as his wife. Why does God put Hosea through all of this? God wanted Hosea to be able to explain to his audience exactly how passionately God loves us and to what lengths he will go to win us back, even when we have hurt him. God loves us the same way that young, jealous newlyweds crave the devotion of their spouses. That’s love!

Now let’s turn our attention to a commandment that you may not have heard much about from the Christian Right. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
He commands us to love one another the same way that he loved us. That’s quite a calling! Moreover, Jesus says that it is in trying to emulate this type of love that people will recognize us as Christians. Imagine that: we are called to love others so passionately and desperately that we are willing to endure the pain, heartache, and humiliation that Hosea endured in an attempt to explain God’s love to us. It is clear that knowing that we are recipients of God’s love is no invitation to self-righteousness.

I know that none of us is perfect and that it is very difficult to love our enemies, but I think it is important to remind ourselves occasionally that Jesus didn't call us to hate anyone. He called us to be his disciples, and he asked us to respond immediately; but he did not call us to hate. Our job is to love as best we can and to share Christ's Good News as best we can. My experience is that both are easier when you try them together.

And this is one of the many places where the Christian Left must step up and find its voice: Every time we hear hate-mongering that the Right claims to have taken directly from the lips of God, we must stand up and yell just as loudly about a God who loves us passionately and expects us to love others the same way.