You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8
Love is a huge word. In English, it takes only four letters, but its meaning encompasses the universe. The 19th chapter of Leviticus covers all sorts of subjects ranging from things that seem quite trivial – the way you cut your hair – to things that seem huge – treating aliens like citizens. Still, if we are guided by Jesus’ teaching, we know that the most important law of all those listed is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” This statement asserts that the obligation to love my neighbor grows out of my commitment to the Lord, a commitment this chapter establishes at a high level: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” I am expected to love my neighbor because God wants me to love people the way he does.
I have a hard time with the legalese of this chapter, or for that matter, with the whole book of Leviticus. I have great difficulty thinking about love in a legal context. Its very nature transcends petty legality. Paul helps me with that by his statement that loving another person fulfills God’s law, but thinking of love as a law still implies that one might express the love and then check off that requirement, breathe a sigh of relief, and move on. Love isn’t like that at all.
I have never been a great fan of Martin Luther King, largely because I simply abhor violence. I abhor socialism. I also abhor segregation, so his cause is not what I dislike about him. I am glad that segregation is dead. So, Martin Luther King was on the right side as far as I am concerned. I just didn’t like all his methods or all his goals. However, like all of us sinful saints, he was at times a saintly sinner. On one of those occasions, he said something I recall often. I can’t quote him exactly, but the substance was that he and his followers would defeat their enemies by loving them to death. He said that no matter how he was treated or how his followers were treated, they would always love their opponents, and he said that their love would be the weapon that turned the tide for them. As far as I can tell, few of his followers absorbed his commitment to love his enemies, but what he said has value nonetheless. Would that all our political and social arguments were bathed in love. A lot of people who invoke his name today would be well-advised to learn that much from him.
The law of love, whether spoken by Moses or Paul or Jesus, sets a high bar for me in political and social discourse, because I see trends and behaviors that make me feel threatened. Like anyone else, when I feel threatened I react automatically in self-defense. In other words, I become defensive. Someone who feels defensive has a hard time loving the person who aroused that instinct. When we are on the defense, the opposition is something to be defeated at all costs. The more defensive we feel, the more violently we resist those who have cornered us. When I feel that the way of life I know and love is threatened, I want to protect it and preserve it. I don’t want to love the people who are trying to destroy it.
I fight a difficult battle. I battle against the ideas that threaten the freedom and prosperity of the country I love, but I must likewise battle the feeling that the people who propose such ideas are unworthy of my love. I rush into the fray to fend off the tentacles of socialism that will undermine human rights, and I feel that I must shut down the enemy. I don’t love someone who wants to forbid children to eat lunch brought from home or to require citizens to buy health insurance or to refuse to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. I know that God loves those people, but I really struggle even to be civil about such atrocities. How can I love someone who wants to oppress our citizens and steal their right to be individuals?
How can I love someone who chooses to ignore our Constitution? I know this is what Jesus wants me to do, but I do not think Jesus wants me to refuse to defend the Constitution. I don’t confuse the Constitution with the Word of God, but I do think it has meaning and provides the foundation for our whole legal system. So honesty compels me to resist any attempt to sidestep it. I have a hard time loving people who tell me that they know better than the Constitution and better than any of those of us who don’t want it changed. It is hard for me to love someone so arrogant as to believe that his or her ideas ought to automatically trump everyone else’s ideas.
But God does not make room for me not to love my opponents. In Leviticus, God said I should love my neighbor as myself, no exceptions. Jesus pushed the bar even higher when he said I should love my enemies and pray for people who hurt me. I don’t get to pick and choose who I love, because on the cross, Jesus pushed that bar as high as it can go. He didn’t die just for me, or just for people I agree with. Jesus died for everyone.
I am working on my attitude. My principles remain the same. I am convinced that the Constitution has a meaning, which can be derived from the words used by the founders to write it and from understanding the way they would have understood the words they used. I believe that the freedom and prosperity of our country for the past 230 years is due to the wisdom encapsulated in the Constitution. I completely reject socialism and Marxism and all the varieties of euphemistic terms used by politicians to pretend that their proposals are neither socialist nor Marxist. That is fine. But God won’t let me engage in that battle without loving my enemies. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and all the people who agree with them politically are my political enemies, but they are beloved children of God, and I must love them. I must fight against everything they stand for, but I must love them.