The true meaning of love

images-59Not a day goes by that I do not hear of something tragic, devastating, frightening, or evil happening in our world. Daily rockets find their way between Gaza and Israel. Armies from Russia threaten invasion into the Ukraine. A man kills the family of his ex-wife, execution style. A youth opens fire on a school full of little children. Suicide bombers sacrifice their lives to take the lives of strangers. All in the name of...what? Certainly not love.

Vitriolic hatred spews from the lips of one side against the other. While some pray for peace, others pray for the annihilation of their enemies. Bitterness fills the comments sections of blog posts. Hatred, tyranny, and the love of self rules over kindness, over love.

I was thinking how frustrating it can be to talk to someone whose spirit is so bitter. If we don't agree with another person's life choices, that doesn't mean we have to hate them. Every person has the right to choose how they wish to live. They might choose to believe something different than I do. They may choose to follow a lifestyle that is different than what I consider moral. They may choose a path that does not even come close to similarity to mine. They have that right to choose. God gave us that right of choice when He made us.

By the very nature of choice, that means we aren't always going to agree. And that's okay. You don't have to agree with my beliefs. Your beliefs are between you and God. Disagreement is not hatred. At least it doesn't have to be.

Unfortunately, too often it turns into just that, to the point of such bitter hatred that we wish ill, or even evil upon another. Wars are fought over such hatred. Kidnappings, murder, torture, unfeeling, uncaring apathy and more, stem from the workings of a bitter heart.

The exact opposite of what it truly means to love.

images-60Jesus came into just such a world as the one we live in now. The ancient Romans had perfected the art of torture, and Jesus suffered untold agony at their hands. But before that moment, and even from the cross where He hung looking down on those who hated Him, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He taught His disciples, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...pray for those who persecute you."

What would happen if instead of cursing, we blessed? Instead of seeking vengeance on those who hate us, we did good to them? Offered a cup of cold water in Jesus' name? Prayed for those who are seeking to persecute others?

Every religion in the world has had its moments of vengeful conquest over others. In the name of our God who is Love and Just, many have dealt out anger and hate. If vengeance is due to anyone of us, God is the one who will handle it. That is not our job. Hating our neighbor is not our calling. Seeking the ill will or harm of someone who chooses a different path than we do, is not what Jesus commanded of His followers.

He said to make disciples. He said to preach the good news of the kingdom. He said to keep the commandments - the greatest of which is:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

To love God above all else means we will also love others above ourselves. And love does not breed fear. Perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love laid down His life for His friends.

That's the truest meaning of love.

Shouldn't we go and do likewise?