We love because [God] first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (I John 4:19-21, NRSV)
Human beings are created in the image of God and loved by God—and called to love God and one another. Not one of us is an island. Our lives are connected locally and globally, figuratively, and literally. The evidence surrounds and threatens to overwhelm us. We see it in the pandemic as the coronavirus moves within our own small circles and the ripples of those circles reach and overlap and merge with circles everywhere. We see it in the brokenness of our nation when division and discord are promoted to the point of violence against those deemed to be enemies and against the work of government itself—resulting in destruction and death that reverberate around the world as other nations watch in horror at what is happening here. We feel it in the pain, fear, and grief that fill and connect our hearts in these difficult days.
That is why it is so important to affirm unequivocally: Words matter. Actions matter. What we say and do has consequences. We are called to love God and told that we cannot love God—we cannot even say we love God—if we hate our brothers and sisters. Some of the implications of this commandment are easier than others. I can say with conviction: those carrying Jesus banners or claiming to be acting for God while they verbally and physically attacked people with whom they disagree, people who believe the fact that a new administration was fairly elected, and people who were doing their job as public servants on behalf of all of us, as well as the sacred historical space in which that work was taking place—those people cannot say that they love God.
It is much, much harder for me to figure out what it will mean for me to show love for those who have demonstrated such hatred for other people, for a truth they do not accept, and for a government that functions peacefully even in times of conflict. Without question, love includes holding them accountable, but it also involves seeking understanding and building relationships so that we can all live and work side-by-side in “one nation under God.” This will not be quick or easy, but I recognize that this must be the goal. I cannot say that I love God and hate them.
One of my favorite hymns is a song from my youth: They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love. May it be so.
God of love and peace, in these dark and scary times, please help me. Calm my outrage so that I can think clearly. Open my mind so that I can more fully understand what is happening and what I can do to make a positive difference. Fill my heart with your love so that I can learn to love others, even those words and actions I hate. Make me an instrument of your love and peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.