I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite some time. We are invited by our Lord to love everyone we encounter in life. We are also challenged by our society to love others who might be different from us, be it politically, physically, intellectually, morally, but lately most especially religiously. In truth, our Lord would not disagree with this challenge, but does the society express love in the same way as God?
As the title of today’s blog suggests, I don’t think society and God share the same definition. Just spend a few moments, just moments on social media and you are likely to encounter at least one meme about love. I’m sure you’ve seen them. “Love not Hate.” “Love is Love” “Who you love is not a sin – Who you hate is.” Of course, these few examples are predominately used to express the political opinions related to sexuality, but today’s blog isn’t about sexuality per se. On the surface, each of these memes also speaks the truth of love from God’s perspective. God doesn’t want hate, and He obviously doesn’t want sin.” So why today’s blog?
Here’s the issue as I see it. There is a difference between love and lust. Put quite basically, lust is selfish love. When we lust, the object of our love isn’t another, but ourselves. When we lust, we desire something, or someone, which is not permitted for us to possess, and yet we believe it will please us so much, that we either fantasize as if we have already obtained it or plot as to how we can. The focus isn’t on anything other than ourselves, the very definition of selfishness. Since our society is based upon the individual as supreme, a society in which we strive to have what we want, when we want it, how we want it, no matter the consequences, the very idea that we might put aside our own desire, for the sake of another, let alone God, is preposterous.
Here are a couple other examples, besides sexuality, that cause a strain in our ability to love rather than lust.
- Greed – Our society often glorifies greed, which is the lust for money. Those with obscene wealth are the ones lifted up as successful, rather than those who choose to live more moderate lives even if able to achieve more. Turn on the nightly news, and reports of a booming stock market are hailed as evidence that our society is flourishing, while the gap between wealth and poverty continues to widen. Don’t be led astray, however, to believe that only the wealthy can be greedy. It is possible for the poor to also be greedy, when the desire for more wealth is the driving force, rather than a life honoring God. Wealth isn’t sinful per se but being wealthy surely increases our chances for greed to reveal itself in our hearts.
- Power – The public square is where power battles are played out. The lust for power draws out the desire to control others rather than to allow them the freedom to make their own choices. Our own ego is at stake here with this one. We can’t bear the thought of our ideas not being the ruling concepts. We think that living in a democratic republic MEANS engaging in the battle of lifestyle control. We have forgotten that laws reflect what is our common moral, rather than the victory of control.
In the midst of this social context, how do we in fact love as God wants us to love? God has given each human being absolute freedom, the freedom to love and the freedom to hate, the freedom to follow God and the freedom to walk away from Him. This freedom was not only given to Christians but to every human being, and when we allow others the same freedom, then we love as God desires for us to love. Love is not hands-off, in the sense that we just sit back, shut up, and ignore the lives of others. God has been urging us to live differently than we choose for thousands of years. The Holy Scriptures are filled with hundreds of commandments which express the life that God desires for us, yet still He allows us to depart from Him.
So, when we interact with others, we express our love for them in allowing them their freedom. We share with them the life that God desires for them, without forcing them to comply against their will. When it comes time to engage in the political process of making laws, which express the common moral of our society, we cast our vote expressing our moral standard. Sometimes our moral standard will match the standard of others. At other times our standard will vary quite drastically from others. When morals differ, the society in which we live has already determined how the differences are handled. In most cases, the majority moral becomes the law of the land. At other times, majority morality is deemed to be against the standards of freedom, and therefore is not allowed to become law. In either case, we should remind ourselves of the wisdom from Saint Paul, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.” (1 Corinthians 6.12)
Allowing the laws of the nation to reflect a morality other than our own, is not the same thing as endorsement of certain behaviors. I think too often we cite Saint Paul’s warning to the Romans, “that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them,” (Romans 1.32) as justification for a social moral war. There is a difference between freedom and endorsement. We do not endorse greed, yet we allow others to make laws glorifying obscene wealth.
At Be Transfigured Ministries, I have always believed that living our Orthodox Christian Faith is our top priority, and everything we publish and support is meant to encourage us to live a NEW life in Christ. That means, there is an old life, in which we acknowledge that we are not living as God desires for us. Maybe you have confused love with lust in your own life. Maybe you have fallen trap to the social expectation to focus on yourself rather than others. Finally, maybe we can be inspired by the call of Christ to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. It requires love to deny ourselves. Lust only serves the self.