In John 21 there's an exchange between Jesus and Peter involving the word "love". It's a pretty common word in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus summarily condenses the entire Jewish law into these to basic premises; love God, love people. In John 13:34 Jesus commands his disciples to love each other as they have been loved by Christ. Needless to say, it's a pretty important concept in the scheme of Christianity. Now, we can go on discussing the different kinds of love, as C.S. Lewis does so well in his book The Four Loves. I'm not a Greek expert, so I'll basically just give a summary here and recommend that if you have time, pick up Lewis's work and give a good go through. From the Greek, we know that there are four words to express what we currently translate as the word "love"; storge, phileo, eros, and agape. I'm sure that many of you have heard this before in a sermon somewhere, but to give a brief recounting, storge is affection through familiarity, phileo is love between family and friends, eros is the emotional state of being "in love", and agape can also be translated as charity, it is an unconditional love. Now, knowing the basic differences between each of these aspects, Christ commands us to "agape" others, as agape is the only love of the four that can be commanded, as it is the only love that is demonstrated through physical action, the only love without the prerequisite of "liking" the subject of love prior to that action. It's a little difficult to put into words, however, I believe this distinctive difference is something that is important. I can't "phileo" or "eros" someone I don't like, because those two aspects of love are based on my emotional attachment to the person whom I am loving, however, with agape, I can still love said person, as charity is not based entirely in emotional connection. Granted, liking the person makes it easier to love that person, but only in a situation where our love is not tied to our emotions can the concept of "loving our enemies" be a command that we can expect to fulfill. As far as I've seen, I've definitely not suddenly started liking everyone I met since becoming a Christian.
So where am I going with all this? Well, I believe that there's an inherent change that needs to take place in how I perceive things that happen around me. Naturally, we've all heard that we need to see others "through the eyes of Christ", that we need to have compassion for the lost around us, yet my pondering has led me to ask what that really looks like. It's pretty hard for me to say where I'm going because naturally, I'm not entirely sure myself, but I believe that this is something that needs to be pondered.
A friend of mine recently posted this tragic news on Facebook, and it struck near and dear to home because it's pretty close to where a lot of our friends live (in fact right in front of the complex of my old apartment as well as my best friend's). Now, the news has done a pretty good job of making it hard to be sympathetic for Daniel Ray Habeeb, and if I may be brutally honest, Daniel Ray Habeeb makes it hard to be sympathetic for Daniel Ray Habeeb. I did a little research into Washington state law, and if I'm not mistaken, this incident at the very least should be his second and third counts of vehicular manslaughter, considering that his children were in the car you may be able to add charges child endangerment and the like to his rap sheet, but of course, that's not my job. This article did generate a lot of buzz among my friends, and for good reason, it was close to home, and the victims were two unlucky drivers on a local road (albeit a dangerous one, I've been in an accident on that street as well, though not the same intersection and nowhere near as bad), so it could have just as easily been someone we knew who was killed. Naturally, the news report goes into Habeeb's history, how he previous killed a 65 year old woman due to his reckless driving, and from all reports, it sounded like he got off with a fine, some funeral bills, and all in all little more than a slap on the wrist. It's natural to be indignant and angry with people like Habeeb for his dangerous driving, with the prosecutors for giving him a plea bargain, with the system for letting something like this happen again. To be frank, it sucks. It does. I was angry and indignant, and definitely from my heart I yearned with the call for justice, and certainly, I believe that justice ought to be served, this isn't something that Habeeb should get away with, it's wrong if he does. I was actually in the middle of a personal rant and going through state legislation to see what sort of punishment he should get, when suddenly a peculiar question popped into my mind;
"What would you do if Daniel Ray Habeeb walked into your church today?"
It's easy to condemn someone you don't know, but what if you met the man today. Certainly, I don't condone his actions, but then he is exactly the person that Christ has called me to love. We hear a lot of great stories about evangelists like Charles Colson reaching out to those in prison, stories about how his prison ministry is reaching those our society and legal system have condemned, how the power of the Gospel is saving these lost ones. I don't know about you, but sometimes, I get so caught up with these stories of conversion and redemption that I forget who exactly Colson is reaching out to. These are convicted criminals, people with whom we'd often be afraid to share the same sidewalk with. Yet even these, we are called to love, we are commanded to agape others.
I don't know that I'm completely advocating people drop everything and start hanging out with society's unsavory sorts of characters, but what if those characters do walk into my life. How am I going to react? It's always easier to avoid eye-contact and walk away (trust me, I know), but aren't I supposed to be overflowing with the love of God? I know it's been said before, I know that I can't muster up any of the love that I ought, but also it is love that I ought to have for others. We all know the answer to the question, we all know what we're supposed to do, but I think sometimes we need to take a step back and examine ourselves and realign ourselves. What would I do if Daniel Ray Habeeb walked in those church doors today? I pray that God would give me the strength and the courage to love him.