I just don’t think the love of God should be linked to known falsehoods.
It has been popular over the last several years to support various political and social causes by telling Christians that supporting the cause is the same thing as loving your neighbor. This takes one of the two Great Commandments given by Christ to his people and applies it directly to one particular view of a current issue. In turn we have heard this concerning universal healthcare[i], same sex marriage, the presumption of guilt[ii], and now any version of a COVID protection measure (masks, lockdowns, and vaccines). I am sure you could add more.
But using a command of Christ like this should rub Christians wrong on a couple of levels. First of all, Christ did not have any of our current political hot-potatoes in mind when he spoke the words. Christians need to avoid beginning our understanding of love with a political or social ideology and then seeing Christ’s commands through those lenses. For us, it is the other way around. Secondly, many of the positions that make use of Christ’s command like this are simply false. They do not match biological, economic, legal, or epidemiological reality, and thus are false beliefs[iii]. If Christ’s commands can be used to justify false beliefs, then there is no real content behind the command. It is nothing but an empty box waiting for people to put in it whatever suits their own belief system.
But what if Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves requires the Christian to conform their beliefs to his and behave accordingly? What if true love demands my submission to the truth?
These kinds of questions press us back into what Christ actually said and the rest of Scripture, to develop a robust theology about divine love and how it relates to the truth. For instance, God cannot love sin or any behavior that contradicts his will or nature. It may surprise many to know that Scripture speaks about the things God hates (E.g.: Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 44:4; Amos 5:15; Zechariah 8:17). When we learn what kinds of behaviors and dispositions God hates, we are supposed to follow suit. Thus, any attempt to reference the love of God and tell a Christian that they need to love (in terms of accept) certain behaviors that contradict God’s will, is a falsehood. It is not actually love.
What if Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves requires the Christian to conform their beliefs to his and behave accordingly? What if true love demands my submission to the truth?Tweet
Does God hate certain behaviors because he hates certain people? Absolutely not. He hates sin because the loves all people so much. It is a simple truism seen in good parenting: wise parents hate behaviors that cause their children pain and dysfunction exactly because they love their children so much.
But the current trend of telling Christians that we have to accept certain social and political positions out of “love for our neighbor” turns that upside down. It degrades love to acceptance of ideas or behaviors, and becomes contrarian at any inconvenient limits or contradictions to behavior in the name of Christ. Thus, using Christ’s words, people run the risk of dismissing Christ’s words.
Some of the practices supported by “love of neighbor” are not profoundly life-changing or intensely moral, like mask-wearing. But that cheapens the command even more. To take one of the two Great Commandments and use it to coerce that behavior, is to misuse an important tool on something that may not actually be that important.
So, what is love of neighbor as Christ commands it? First of all, it is Christ. To love my neighbor is to speak the truth about Christ (John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 5:19), and live the truth about Christ as much as possible.
It is to live according to the truth of Christ toward my neighbor. The person in front of me is an image-bearer no matter the choices they are making in life. They are supremely valuable and worthy of my value-filled attention. The truth of the matter for them is the same as it is for me: they are loved by God but not all of their behavior is loved by God. And even though this distinction is a minefield in our current culture, it is reality. And people deserve to be treated according to reality.
The truth of the matter for them is the same as it is for me: they are loved by God but not all of their behavior is loved by God.Tweet
[i] “Healthcare” was the popular misnomer. It was an attempt at universal insurance. “Free” was also dissembling.
[ii] This was a shocking turn. The presumption of innocence in the face of accusations was a great leap forward for civilization. But as one friend noted, guilt should be presumed, “just to be safe.” “Love of neighbor” was invoked because of the context of the #MeToo movement.
[iii] My Twitter feed is filled with links to the studies and articles that have led me to these positions: @phil_steiger.