Saturday, February 06, 2016
Love Always Protects
“Love...always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” [1 Cor. 13:6]
In my ongoing debates with other Christians concerning the nonviolent, proactive agape of Jesus versus a more pro-violence and Nationalist viewpoint, the idea of protecting the innocent often arises.
I’ve already written one article addressing this, but to recap - anyone who kills to protect their family or friends is still only demonstrating the same kind of love that everyone else does. As Jesus puts it: “If you love only those who love you in return, what credit is that to you?”
Instead, Jesus calls Christians to go above and beyond this and to actually love our enemies.
I know it's a hard one to swallow, but Jesus has no commands for us about protecting others. [More on this in a moment].
So, what are we to do with a verse like 1 Cor. 13: 6 which says that “Love…always protects”? Doesn’t that prove that Jesus really does want us to protect the innocent? Well, for some the answer is an automatic “Yes!”, but let's ask a few questions first:
Do we see Jesus protecting the innocent? No, we don’t.
Do we see Jesus urging us to protect the safety of others? No, we do not.
Do we see Paul, or any of the other Apostles, or the earliest Christians, protecting one another from danger or death? Again, the answer is no.
What, then, does Paul mean when he says that “Love…always protects?”
I think it depends on what you mean by “Protect”. Usually, the Christians who debate this issue of justifiable force or redemptive violence translate “protecting others” as “using violence against the bad guys” and that most certainly is not what Paul means here.
But he also doesn’t mean “do nothing and sit back while people get brutalized” either.
Believe it or not, there is a middle ground between “capping the perps with your nine” and “dancing barefoot while wearing daisies in your hair.”
For those who seek to follow Jesus and to embody the practice of agape love, protection looks like stepping in front of the bullet, or inserting your body between the victim and the attacker. It means sacrificing yourself to save someone else.
I heard someone tell a story once that illustrated this kind of love perfectly.
Several years ago, my friend, [we’ll call him Joe], was visiting India as a young Christian. He wanted to save the world. He thought he could bring the Kingdom all by himself. One day he was walking in the streets of Delhi and he walked up on a circle of policemen beating an old man with their clubs. They stopped and looked at him for a moment. He was the only white man on the street. They waited to see what he would say, what he would do. Even the old man, trembling there on the street, looked up at him and waited to see what he would do next. In a moment of shameful indecision and impotence my friend, not knowing what else he could do, just kept on walking, and as he walked away he heard the beating continue.
When he got back to his room he wept and cried out to God to forgive him.
About five years later, this friend, “Joe”, was living in the home of a poor family in Santa Ana, California, as their guest. He wasn’t there to change the world. He just wanted to learn about their struggles, and to serve in any way he could. One day he heard shouting outside. One of the teenage boys from the family he was staying with was being beaten by a local gang. Immediately, he ran outside and pushed his way through the circle of bodies. When he saw his friend laying on the ground, face bloodied as he was repeatedly kicked and punched, this person didn’t hesitate; he fell on top of his friend and covered him with his own body. After just a few more punches, everything stopped. The gang leader told him to get out of the way. He refused. “You’re loco,” they told him. But he didn’t move. They eventually left.
Afterwards, my friend said he started thinking about why he had done that. The Lord showed him. “Your love compelled you,” he heard the Spirit whisper, and then his mind flashed back to that memory, years ago in India, when he had seen that old man being beaten and done nothing. He understood, at last, what the difference was. It was love. He didn’t need to think about what to do when his heart was filled with love.
As our hearts are filled more and more with the love of Christ, we also will respond as His love compels us. We will, like Jesus, lay down our lives for one another.
We will protect others, not with violence, but with sacrificial devotion.
“Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for a friend.” – Jesus