Monday, October 16, 2017

Love and Response

Several years ago I gave some good advice to a struggling, depressed young adult. Basic things, really: Go to bed at the same time every night, get up at the same time every morning, brush your teeth and get dressed rather than lying around moping until all hours. Eat properly. Exercise. Clean up after yourself. Jordan Peterson stuff, but before everybody knew who Jordan Peterson is.

Clearing Out the Static

I’ve been there myself and discovered most these things the hard way. Putting them into practice won’t solve your major problems, of course, but it has the effect of clearing out the “background noise” in one’s life and allowing one to isolate and deal with one’s real issues.

It was advice given lovingly and with the best of intentions. But it wasn’t heeded, and no benefit resulted.

Well, no immediate benefit anyway. A few years passed and a doctor offered precisely the same advice, not out of love but because she was getting paid for it. Lo and behold, the results are remarkable. Not a complete solution, of course, but a solid start down the right road.

But that’s one thing about love: you have to respond to it correctly to benefit from it. Another is that love’s recipients frequently fail to recognize it for what it is.

Young and Rich

Familiar story: As Jesus is leaving the Jordan area, a young man runs up to him, kneels and asks him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The basis of Jesus’ response to him is love. Mark says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” So the next words out of the Lord’s mouth — “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” — are not coming from a desire to be proven right (“This’ll show him!”) or from an impulse to provide an object lesson for his disciples (though doubtless they benefited from the teaching that followed). And sure, the poor would also have benefited, but I doubt that was the Lord’s primary interest. There’s no end of need, after all, and the sum of all this man’s wealth was only a drop in a very large ocean. In the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t do much, and the Lord knew that.

The Best Possible Outcome

No, it was love. Pure love. He wanted the very best possible outcome for this young man. He was offering him the greatest gift he could possibly offer at the time: the opportunity to see Messiah up close, learn from him and participate in his labors with him. But he could see that the distractions caused by this young man’s need to manage his financial affairs would make such a lifestyle impossible. You probably have friends of the same type: you’re trying to have fellowship with them over lunch and they’re glued to their iPhone. You’re loving them, and they don’t benefit.

Not only that, but the young man goes away sorrowful. He sees the Lord’s offer as a burden too onerous to bear, rather than the gracious opportunity to free himself up from his real burdens and live the life he was made for. Whatever he may have thought of the Lord’s answer, he fails to recognize his love for what it is.

Today, we think love is giving people what they are asking for. But the Lord shows that love often manifests itself in giving people what they can’t appreciate and don’t want, and in demanding from them precisely what they most want to retain for themselves.

Think on that one for a while.

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