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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: 1 John 4

Have you ever had the experience of reading something and finding yourself agreeing 100% - yet sighing as you put down the reading material and thinking to yourself, "If only it were that easy." I have that experience every time I read today's passage from the 4th chapter of 1 John.

The 4th chapter of 1
John is probably the second most famous chapter dealing with the topic of love in all the Bible. It ranks behind only 1 Corinthians 13 in that regard. Some of the wonderfully stirring words contained in the chapter read: "My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God," the author observes. "The person who refuses to love doesn't know the first thing about God, because God is love – so you can't know him if you don't love."

On the surface, I completely agree with those sentiments. In reality, however, I have a challenge living into those words. Every time I read them, for instance, I can't help but thinking of a person whom I'll call Brian. Brian was a student of mine while I taught in the juvenile detention center. He had been locked up because he shot and killed his neighbor. Brian was one of the most difficult people I have ever known to get along with. He had been raised alone on a remote piece of property with his father – so he had virtually no social skills. No matter how hard you tried to engage him, Brian would never respond. Not to humor, not to praise, not to supportive words – not to anything. Practically every other word out of his mouth was a four letter word, and he LOVED to make fun of others. He also had the coldest eyes I have ever seen in a living human being. To make matters worse, he and his attorney managed to manipulate the legal system. This allowed Brian to get off for the murder with only a couple of months served!

Looking back on the few weeks I taught Brian, I ask myself, "Did I love Brian?"

The answer is complicated. On one level I can truthfully say yes. I did love Brian when I looked at him and saw a wounded child of God. In other words, I loved him on the abstract level. When it came time to interacting with Brian on the concrete level – did I love him? Nearly twenty years later, I still I don't know if I can truthfully answer that question with a resounding yes. Sadly, today's passage doesn't draw a distinction between loving someone in the abstract and loving someone in the concrete. From its perspective, love is love.

Have you ever encountered someone like Brian who pushes every last button you have? If so, I wonder how you have managed to reconcile your experience of such a person with the sentiments contained in today's passage. I hope we'll all use those wonderful – yet challenged words from 1 John 4 to draw us into deeper levels of consideration of this thing called love.

Til next time …

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