We are called into relationship with Christ, and from this calling, we are compelled to love our neighbor. “Who is our neighbor?” my 8 year-old daughter asked. “Who do you think?” I asked. “My friend,” she said. To her, our neighbor is literally the friend who lives next door whom she sees every day.
But Christ’s command to love extends to all – not just our neighbor next door. Indeed, the command to love extends even to that part of the neighborhood marked “enemy territory.” Conveying this concept to my 8-year-old presents me with two challenges.
Firstly, I must be careful to define this love as Christ defines it. To our collective detriment, the concept of love has been degraded by a societal drift toward a form of romanticism where feelings and emotions control our responses and the validity of the love relationship is largely measured in what “I” get out of it. Yet Christ calls us to love each other “as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) That love led to Calvary. That love stood silent in the face of hatred. That love looked remarkably unlike the shallow selfishness that parades itself as love today. I’m challenged in conveying this kind of love to my daughter, because it, quite frankly, is a kind of love that can and will be abused in today’s world.
My second challenge is that Christ-love is hard to live and I’m convinced my daughter has her own personal hypocrisy-detector! I can’t get away with telling her that Jesus commands us to love “even our enemies” while I have difficulty being civil to the old lady who shushes children in church!
In the final analysis, Bonhoeffer offers me assistance in my challenged state. Christian love means “liv[ing] in peace with every person.” (Christ and Peace) Yet, as Bonhoeffer also points out, “… peace lies only in God … [and] is inseparably bound up with the gospel.” I can’t manufacture love for my enemies; I can live into the gospel and be transformed by God’s Spirit. If I try hard enough to love, I’ll still fail. But if I give myself over to God, I – and maybe even my daughter’s hypocrisy-detector – might be surprised!