is not of feelings within us; it’s of the will through Christ
Why do religious and non-religious people alike make it a point to be good and care for others?
To clarify what I mean by the word ‘care’ here, its antonyms are ‘apathy,’ ‘neglect,’ and ‘thoughtlessness.’
Any man may act in a caring way without belief in God, simply because he thinks ‘it’s the right and good thing to do.’ He thinks it is the right and good thing to do because he feels like it is, from listening to his conscience and by how he’s been influenced to think.
The care a man gives can be without a trace of affection. While being affectionate is the most basic kind of love, it still takes fondness found through an understanding and familiarity with what or who is loved; yet a man will care for a complete stranger, or an enemy because of what he feels to be right. Christians will say this is due to common grace—that God has bestowed on each of us a small measure (but a gracious measure nonetheless) of his true love. How does the godless man explain the value he maintains for care? What about the man who says there are no moral absolutes? What’s really ‘right and good’ to him?
A utilitarian would say it’s simply what is beneficial for the majority of society, not caring for the individuals in society. If this is the best example of what’s good and right, then we don’t need to care for all humanity since orphans, widows, the elderly, and dying, among others would be considered a waste. These “lesser people” are viewed as contributing little or nothing, thus worth just as little. What if the utilitarian became the sick and old one in his equation, would he still hold onto his belief that he doesn’t deserve life?
The focus for many however, as to why they act morally is more about personal gain than doing what is right. Most of us understand communities run more smoothly when citizens act ethically, and that if we wish to be treated in an amiable manner, we must treat others in a likewise manner or else desired treatment will likely not be received in turn. It’s a ‘reap what you sow’ or ‘work for a reward’ mentality. With this mindset, he who believes in an afterlife, but not in a personal God who is the only way to life after death, often (if not always) will believe treating others well will allow him a good position in whatever his future holds.
Now I come to the Christians’ principal of care and love, that of Jesus.
Each of us has a free will, which makes us able to choose to believe the claims Jesus Christ made are either true or false. Most importantly these claims are that he is the Son of God, the only way to the only truth, and life through forgiveness of sins and that we are helpless sinners in need of a savior. If these claims weren’t true, I’d wonder about anything Jesus spoke of. If he was a liar or simply crazy about such a thing as being God, why believe him about anything else? With my trust in Christ’s honesty I believe him when he says he is the only way to life. Being a nice person simply isn’t enough for redemption. I can’t earn my way to his grace because Jesus is perfect and to be good enough for him would take perfection—something too lofty for me to attain. With a thankful heart all I can do is admit my weakness and accept God’s great mercy and love shown us through his amazing grace.
I believe Jesus is the Son of God and I’ve accepted his grace, meaning I’ve totally surrendered myself to him and accepted his authority in my life. So my effort is put toward obeying the two basic commands Jesus gave the world, which are to first love the Lord our God with all our heart, our entire mind, and all our strength; and secondly that we love our neighbor as our self.
We have been commanded to love three entities: First and highest our love should go toward God, and second to our neighbor and our self. We may choose to obey, or not to, but we cannot choose to love. We all inadvertently love in a basic sense. What we choose is where the focus of our love will be set. Where our love is set, there our care is focused as well. We love either what is good or what is evil.
To be indifferent to someone isn’t a balance between love and hate. It is an absence of love, or put another way, it’s choosing not to love them and that’s neglect for what truly matters, which is the heart and soul of humanity. To fail to love even what we consider to be the lowliest person, would be to hate him. Furthermore, to not love a neighbor is disobedience to our God. Just as we can’t live between love and hate, we also can’t love that which contradicts, such as a corrupt world and a holy God. We will love one and hate the other.
The word ‘neighbor’ in the commandment from Jesus, could just as well be replaced with ‘humanity,’ with neither being narrowed by economic or social status, ethnicity, cleverness, or beauty. To genuinely love, and thus sincerely care about humanity, is to do so toward humanity as a whole. Logically then, ‘neighbor’ includes those alive and well here and now, but also future generations, and humanity alive without a voice of its own. To love all ofhumanity is really the only way loving others makes sense. If the rule weren’t meant toward all humanity, who’s to say where the line should be drawn? If it’s up to each individual to say what’s right and good, then the focus of care has automatically shifted from other to self. Care (or love) for self above others will often disguise itself as care for others, but certainly then this ‘care’ for others would be insincere. While caring actions are intrinsically a good thing, carrying them out as simply actions without love, is insincere.
I believe love regardless of circumstances is most accurately called charity love or ‘agape’ in Greek. This is what brings forth a deep and sincere care and concern for others. (We are establishing here that what is sincere care, and love, go hand in hand. ) Caring merely from a principal of living ethically or earning a reward as its sole purpose, I doubt harbors any love. Being selective about whom we love, based strictly on feelings, we have nothing to keep a marriage together—that which should hold so much love.
The questions now arise: how does a man truly love a stranger, particularly a hostile stranger? How does he love when he doesn’t feel like it? Isn’t this kind of love unnatural and possibly impossible for even the most ethical man? Where does the love to bestow come from? (Must it not come from somewhere?) What is the well of something so deep?
While we were enemies of God he sent his son Jesus to die for our sins on the cross, as a sacrifice for our disobedience. We hated him, we were his enemy, but he died for us because of his great love. He knew we couldn’t save ourselves from the punishment we’d brought on, but he cared for us so much he was willing to die so that we might live. This is love. He is the very Essence of Love Itself.
Though we are all commanded to love God and humanity, Christians obey not from mere obligation, and neither do we follow it for completely selfish reasons, because ultimately we can’t earn the saving we so desire. Honestly, I once did act out of obligation and in an effort to deserve God’s favor, but I could never attain it and I only ended up feeling more and more burdened because I was aware of how distant I was from my God. I now have the Spirit of God within me, which in very nature is a Spirit of Love and I obey through an understanding of freedom and grace and love that’s been given to me. I love God with a thankful heart because he first loved me and so I want to honor, worship and adore him more. I count this new understanding and desire for him a beautiful gift in addition to his grace and forgiveness.
As creatures under God’s dominion, we are all called and held responsible to follow his commands. Living ethically is living to become something we inherently are not, but living by the gospel is to become what we are. From creatures we become sons of God by accepting him as our Father. This is how love works in the lives of everyone with the true Christian spirit–we are able to love beyond human limitations because the Being of Love lives inside of us, helping us do what he wills which we cannot accomplish in our own strength. We still can’t do so perfectly, since we are finite, fallen creatures, but God does allow us to love others in a charitable way, as well as to be more affectionate, a better friend, and a truer lover. He is The Well which deep love comes from so with him we are capable of deep love and without him we are capable of only a semblance of love. Because with God we are capable of true love, we are capable of committing to such in marriage. Maintaining the commitment is not done by feelings, but by our will. The commitments made on our wedding day should be promises made before God and the to-be husband or wife about our will, not merely our feelings. While persisting in charity love other loves will undoubtedly develop and grow; so this promise to will love is what sustains the best marriage when feelings for erotic love cannot be found. Between two ‘decent and sensible’* people a promise can be made to will togetherness for a lifetime, and I believe they’re able to keep their promise even when the going gets tough. I don’t believe however, that a couple can necessarily keep a promise to will love without God’s help.
Now, if you love humanity, you must know what the most pressing matter for all humanity is. Though some fail to realize it, it is that of mortality on earth and the eternality of our spirits. We’ve all been given the gift of life on earth and with it, the daily opportunity to accept the gift of salvation from death—to be with our creator for eternity. I have accepted this life beyond death and I know it’s secured; with this assurance I am free to turn my attention outward and lead others toward the same life and assurance. Whether or not I like what someone does, how useful I think he is, whether he’s my enemy, stranger, or friend, I will love him with an agape love—which is how Christ loves me.
My deepest care in the world now is not for myself, as it once was, but instead for God. He cares deeply for justice and loves humanity to the point of death; and because I love God, I care about what he cares about. From my love for God, a genuine love for humanity has sprung.
I use the word ‘man’ in this essay to mean either man or woman. For succinctness in writing and ease of reading, I left it at ‘man’ meaning creation, not male.
*C. S. Lewis’ term for a marriage between two “good” people who aren’t Christians.