Love … In these Troubled Times
How do we fully love God and love our neighbor at this time in history? That is the big question. It is always the big question. We could clarify that question with the reminder that to fully love our neighbor requires that we share the gospel with them and live the gospel before them. But the Great Commission is husband to the Great Commandment.
The phrase “at this time in history” recognizes that the issues people wrestle with change with time and circumstance. This question posed to believers in Damascus, Syria or Kabul, Afghanistan would produce a different response and application than the same question posed in La Grande, OR or Ellensburg, WA. Likewise, believers in Plague ravaged Europe in the 14th Century would apply the love command differently than middle-class American in 2014.
This morning I read a message that helped me think of this question more deeply. In the fall of 1939, with Hitler ranting and war raging, C.S. Lewis delivered a sermon at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford, titled Learning in War-Time. He began by asking the question, “What is the use of beginning a task [that of a liberal arts course of study] which we have so little chance of finishing? Or, even if we ourselves should happen not to be interrupted by death or military service, why should we – indeed how can we – continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance?” Lewis’ answered his own question brilliantly. Here is a part of his answer:
“I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumable they have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on the scaffold, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.”
Lewis ends his message by addressing three enemies which war raises up against us: the enemies of excitement, frustration and fear. Regarding excitement, he says that “the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one.” Life always contains an element of warring and you must not let this keep you from life and love and living the faith. “Favorable conditions never come,” says Lewis. Because of that, I would say, “Don’t delay the command to love until your enemy is no longer your enemy. Love you neighbor, even if she is your enemy.”
Regarding the enemy of frustration, Lewis says that this is the “feeling that we shall not have time to finish,” and this is a feeling that we must shun, and, instead, leave “futurity in God’s hands…. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’”
Concerning the enemy of fear, it is true that war threatens us with death and pain. But war does not make death more frequent. Neither does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God. Indeed, war makes a man prepare for death. War forces us to remember death. A war-ripped world makes clear that heaven cannot be built on earth. The present world is a place of pilgrimage, not a permanent city satisfying man’s soul. War makes this clear, and thus we not allow fear to paralyze us.
Lewis’s message on learning in war-time reminded me that every generation must find ways to live the faith, and love God and others, while wrestling with the principalities and powers and dark spiritual forces in the heavens. And when I consider my own efforts to love God and love my neighbor, the conflict that gives me the most trouble isn’t in the Middle East, or Washington D.C., or Ferguson, or even in my own house. It’s not the trouble I experience or observe in “the times in which we live.” It’s the trouble brewing in my heart that imprisons me. It’s the battle in my mind that is the problem. As Lewis said, it’s the enemies of excitement, frustration and fear, that must be overcome, and these are in me, not in “the world.”
So, how are you loving God and loving your neighbor at this time in the history of your life, which is, by the way, the only life you’ll ever have?