How to love someone you don’t love

If the purpose of all vocations is to love and serve the particular neighbor that vocation brings into your life, what do you do when you don’t really love that neighbor?  (George Marquart raised this question in his comment on the article.)  I’ll take a stab at the question and then let you.  Faith in Christ, we are told in Scripture, bears fruit in love (though we often fall far short, which is why we need to continue to confess our sin).  As we love Christ more and more, this overflows into love of our neighbors.  What has helped for me is the realization that just as God is hidden in vocation, Christ is hidden in our neighbors.  (“Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren”–or “did it not”–you have done it [or not done it] to me.”)  Thinking vocationally makes me realize that God is masked in those who do things for me; that same mindset–realizing that God hides Himself–has helped me to realize that Christ is hidden in my neighbors, which makes it easier for me to love them.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Mary Jack

    I would suggest that just as we often don’t know what faith “feels” like, as sinners we often don’t know what “love” feels like. Perhaps like lepers of the past we may be doing something unaware. Which ties in nicely to how God reveals we will not necessarily recognize our good works.

    Or, to put it more in line with the post, the Christ in me reaches out in love even when parts of me don’t.

    Regarding Christ in others, to be honest I stumble a little over this as some people talk about it. Not because I don’t believe it, but because I can’t get over the sense that it would be wicked to miss our neighbor (the whole point of vocation) so that I can find Christ where it would serve me. I think Christ in others ought to further humanize them in our perspectives so that they, and we, may be more approachable. Perhaps that is where Dr. Veith was going.

  • Mary Jack

    I would suggest that just as we often don’t know what faith “feels” like, as sinners we often don’t know what “love” feels like. Perhaps like lepers of the past we may be doing something unaware. Which ties in nicely to how God reveals we will not necessarily recognize our good works.

    Or, to put it more in line with the post, the Christ in me reaches out in love even when parts of me don’t.

    Regarding Christ in others, to be honest I stumble a little over this as some people talk about it. Not because I don’t believe it, but because I can’t get over the sense that it would be wicked to miss our neighbor (the whole point of vocation) so that I can find Christ where it would serve me. I think Christ in others ought to further humanize them in our perspectives so that they, and we, may be more approachable. Perhaps that is where Dr. Veith was going.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Yeah,
    Here is the massive confusion. Love in the English language gets confused with having a feeling towards someone. When Jesus commands us to Love someone he is really talking about what we do.
    We love our neighbor by following the ten commandments. You can have the feeling of “love” and it can lead you to break all ten Commandments, and so then you aren’t even loving the person you love. But when on account of your fear love and trust in God you refrain from committing adultery with the one you “love” you are actually loving that person even more than if you broke the sixth commandment with them. And even though you feel nothing but rage and contempt for the person, that you don’t murder them, and perhaps even help them with food and clothing, you are then loving that person.
    I hope that helps a bit.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Yeah,
    Here is the massive confusion. Love in the English language gets confused with having a feeling towards someone. When Jesus commands us to Love someone he is really talking about what we do.
    We love our neighbor by following the ten commandments. You can have the feeling of “love” and it can lead you to break all ten Commandments, and so then you aren’t even loving the person you love. But when on account of your fear love and trust in God you refrain from committing adultery with the one you “love” you are actually loving that person even more than if you broke the sixth commandment with them. And even though you feel nothing but rage and contempt for the person, that you don’t murder them, and perhaps even help them with food and clothing, you are then loving that person.
    I hope that helps a bit.

  • Mary Jack

    Bror, I probably ultimately agree with you, but when Jesus commands us to not commit adultery, we are not to do it physically or internally. So I’m not sure we can say that love is ONLY external. Though I definitely agree it’s more than a sin-tainted feeling.

  • Mary Jack

    Bror, I probably ultimately agree with you, but when Jesus commands us to not commit adultery, we are not to do it physically or internally. So I’m not sure we can say that love is ONLY external. Though I definitely agree it’s more than a sin-tainted feeling.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Mary Jack,
    And having rage and hate in your heart is also still a sin, yet despite that you can “love” the person and do a good work there by not acting on the rage. The same way that yes you are sinning for having a lustful thought or amorous feelings for someone and yet by not acting on those you love the person, where as acting on your lustful thoughts would be using the person, and not love.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Mary Jack,
    And having rage and hate in your heart is also still a sin, yet despite that you can “love” the person and do a good work there by not acting on the rage. The same way that yes you are sinning for having a lustful thought or amorous feelings for someone and yet by not acting on those you love the person, where as acting on your lustful thoughts would be using the person, and not love.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    then of course there is the whole fake it till you make it bit. Except by doing here you are not faking you are actually loving, it just might take a bit for your emotions to catch up.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    then of course there is the whole fake it till you make it bit. Except by doing here you are not faking you are actually loving, it just might take a bit for your emotions to catch up.

  • Mary Jack

    :D “Fake it til you make it.” I’ll have to remember that.

    Yes, and behind that love may be a variety of things: self-control, lack of opportunity (something I’ve found ironically helpful at times), etc. Thanks be to God that we are not our own sources of love or moderation!

    Thanks, Bror. And I just read your article on Luther, James & the Scriptures. Good stuff! My brother-in-law is Rev. Jason Krause, in your neck of the woods. Maybe we’ll meet some day.

  • Mary Jack

    :D “Fake it til you make it.” I’ll have to remember that.

    Yes, and behind that love may be a variety of things: self-control, lack of opportunity (something I’ve found ironically helpful at times), etc. Thanks be to God that we are not our own sources of love or moderation!

    Thanks, Bror. And I just read your article on Luther, James & the Scriptures. Good stuff! My brother-in-law is Rev. Jason Krause, in your neck of the woods. Maybe we’ll meet some day.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Mary Jack,
    That’s funny. Jason is a good guy. Enjoy having him out here.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Mary Jack,
    That’s funny. Jason is a good guy. Enjoy having him out here.

  • Becky F.

    Love is not the same as affectionate feelings, or liking someone. Love is what you do: respecting that we are all created in the image of God, serving others even if we don’t want to and don’t really like the person.

    Anyone who has children can say that they don’t like their kids every moment of the day, but that doesn’t change the fact that they still love them. I’m not going to not feed my children, or not change their diapers, just because they’re having an extra whiny, naughty day and they’re driving me nuts! :)

  • Becky F.

    Love is not the same as affectionate feelings, or liking someone. Love is what you do: respecting that we are all created in the image of God, serving others even if we don’t want to and don’t really like the person.

    Anyone who has children can say that they don’t like their kids every moment of the day, but that doesn’t change the fact that they still love them. I’m not going to not feed my children, or not change their diapers, just because they’re having an extra whiny, naughty day and they’re driving me nuts! :)

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Bror @2

    Well. I have one of those rare opportunities. very very rare, to disagree with pastor bror. so here goes:

    According to the Lutheran Catechisms Love = Daily Bread. And what is daily bread? according the 1st article of the Apostle´s Creed and the 4th petition , it is EVERYthing and ALL that we need to flourish in our bodily life. This can be love as an act. It can also be love as a feeling.

    If my parent or significant other is doing love to me out of only a begrudging sense of obligation or without parental or romantic love that is of the touchy feely variety, then most people actually become resentful. And I think with just cause.

    I think that salient point is not that love is an act and can only be an act. We always want to make rules to be righteous or to restrict what the fulfillment of the law is so it cannot trouble our conscience. This is Old Adam talking.

    Rather, the salient point as to what is truly God Pleasing righteousness on earth, or love, is instead that whatever it is we are doing is truly bread, that is , that it nourishes and flourishes truly the well-being of someone. Someone truly knowing that I feel love towards them makes them feel loved. We all do alot of things to be in that space. And true this comes full circle, almost, in that there is evidence, things we do, in word and deed and gesture that reveal the existence of those feelings.

    And by the way, we are each first in line, in our own selves, to give this love to. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” fully implies that we cannot know or do love without first knowing how to love our own selves.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Bror @2

    Well. I have one of those rare opportunities. very very rare, to disagree with pastor bror. so here goes:

    According to the Lutheran Catechisms Love = Daily Bread. And what is daily bread? according the 1st article of the Apostle´s Creed and the 4th petition , it is EVERYthing and ALL that we need to flourish in our bodily life. This can be love as an act. It can also be love as a feeling.

    If my parent or significant other is doing love to me out of only a begrudging sense of obligation or without parental or romantic love that is of the touchy feely variety, then most people actually become resentful. And I think with just cause.

    I think that salient point is not that love is an act and can only be an act. We always want to make rules to be righteous or to restrict what the fulfillment of the law is so it cannot trouble our conscience. This is Old Adam talking.

    Rather, the salient point as to what is truly God Pleasing righteousness on earth, or love, is instead that whatever it is we are doing is truly bread, that is , that it nourishes and flourishes truly the well-being of someone. Someone truly knowing that I feel love towards them makes them feel loved. We all do alot of things to be in that space. And true this comes full circle, almost, in that there is evidence, things we do, in word and deed and gesture that reveal the existence of those feelings.

    And by the way, we are each first in line, in our own selves, to give this love to. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” fully implies that we cannot know or do love without first knowing how to love our own selves.

  • http://www.uath-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    fws,
    I think I’m even more resentful being told I must conjure up butterflies in my tummy for someone I don’t love.
    Yes there is a sense in which when God tells us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves that we are actually supposed to love ourselves.
    Yet, yesterdays gospel lesson also comes to mind. If anyone comes after me and does not hate…. himself he is not worthy of me.
    So my point made better maybe in my sermon for yesterday, is that the love asked for here is also a denial of self.
    In a perfect world of course there would be no need to contemplate this agonizing question of “how do I love someone I do not love.” but that would be a perfect world. and in the end the fact that we do not love everyone, does wonders to show us our sin and need for Christ who does love everyone, including the people we despise.

  • http://www.uath-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    fws,
    I think I’m even more resentful being told I must conjure up butterflies in my tummy for someone I don’t love.
    Yes there is a sense in which when God tells us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves that we are actually supposed to love ourselves.
    Yet, yesterdays gospel lesson also comes to mind. If anyone comes after me and does not hate…. himself he is not worthy of me.
    So my point made better maybe in my sermon for yesterday, is that the love asked for here is also a denial of self.
    In a perfect world of course there would be no need to contemplate this agonizing question of “how do I love someone I do not love.” but that would be a perfect world. and in the end the fact that we do not love everyone, does wonders to show us our sin and need for Christ who does love everyone, including the people we despise.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Bror @10

    Well. I was expecting a great comeback and I got one.

    I think what puts us on the same page is our common lutheran understanding that earthly righteousness or love simply cannot happen in Old Adam without mortification, that is the application of carrot and stick of the Law.

    Indeed you are right. The Old Adam is always resentful when he is told by the law that he is supposed to love and then is further resentful when he is told that simply going through the motions is still not enough! The Old Adam feels hateful when he is informed by the Law that love must always come from the heart. with feeling!

    Luther breaks this down in his wonderful preface to his 1545 romans translation.

    here is the link for those of you here who have not read it:

    http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/romans/pref_romans.html

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Bror @10

    Well. I was expecting a great comeback and I got one.

    I think what puts us on the same page is our common lutheran understanding that earthly righteousness or love simply cannot happen in Old Adam without mortification, that is the application of carrot and stick of the Law.

    Indeed you are right. The Old Adam is always resentful when he is told by the law that he is supposed to love and then is further resentful when he is told that simply going through the motions is still not enough! The Old Adam feels hateful when he is informed by the Law that love must always come from the heart. with feeling!

    Luther breaks this down in his wonderful preface to his 1545 romans translation.

    here is the link for those of you here who have not read it:

    http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/romans/pref_romans.html

  • George A. Marquart

    After I posted my contribution, I was dismayed to realize that I had left out one of the most important ways in which God guards and strengthens our faith and our love for Him: life within the congregation, including worship, hearing the Gospel, and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord. “Life within the congregation” is not the same as “Life within the Church”, because “the Church” is the entire environment our Lord created for His children when He “opened the Kingdom to all believers.”

    I have difficulty with quantifying love. Do I love Christ more today than I did 20 years ago? I have no way of measuring it. If I do something for my neighbor, or my enemy, and take that to mean that my love for Christ has increased, I put myself in danger of glorying in my own works.

    As Lutherans we agree that faith is a gift. Then we define it in many complicated ways, none of which are probably sufficient to describe faith completely. Interestingly, when St. Paul discussed the matter in 1 Cor. 13, he spoke of faith, hope, and love together. I suspect that the gift we receive in Baptism, which we find so difficult to describe in its totality, includes all three and probably more. God is not limited in His gifts to us by our vocabulary. (He probably prefers German anyway. after He abandoned Hebrew) Nevertheless, St. Paul says that the greatest of these is love.

    Then there is Joy, as when in the evening, just before our Lord began His suffering of mind-bending pain and unimaginable temptation, He said to His disciples: John 16: 22 “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

    And there is Peace, as in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    I am sure there are more.

    The “fourfold” vocation is also God’s gift to us. Some people have lives that are so horrible that it is impossible for me to see how they can have any faith, hope, joy, peace or love. But that is the mystery of faith – not what I can understand, but that He makes it possible for us to trust that when He says He gives gifts, He does.

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  • George A. Marquart

    After I posted my contribution, I was dismayed to realize that I had left out one of the most important ways in which God guards and strengthens our faith and our love for Him: life within the congregation, including worship, hearing the Gospel, and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord. “Life within the congregation” is not the same as “Life within the Church”, because “the Church” is the entire environment our Lord created for His children when He “opened the Kingdom to all believers.”

    I have difficulty with quantifying love. Do I love Christ more today than I did 20 years ago? I have no way of measuring it. If I do something for my neighbor, or my enemy, and take that to mean that my love for Christ has increased, I put myself in danger of glorying in my own works.

    As Lutherans we agree that faith is a gift. Then we define it in many complicated ways, none of which are probably sufficient to describe faith completely. Interestingly, when St. Paul discussed the matter in 1 Cor. 13, he spoke of faith, hope, and love together. I suspect that the gift we receive in Baptism, which we find so difficult to describe in its totality, includes all three and probably more. God is not limited in His gifts to us by our vocabulary. (He probably prefers German anyway. after He abandoned Hebrew) Nevertheless, St. Paul says that the greatest of these is love.

    Then there is Joy, as when in the evening, just before our Lord began His suffering of mind-bending pain and unimaginable temptation, He said to His disciples: John 16: 22 “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

    And there is Peace, as in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    I am sure there are more.

    The “fourfold” vocation is also God’s gift to us. Some people have lives that are so horrible that it is impossible for me to see how they can have any faith, hope, joy, peace or love. But that is the mystery of faith – not what I can understand, but that He makes it possible for us to trust that when He says He gives gifts, He does.

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

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  • Matt

    Thomas Manton wrote, “He that prizeth the person of Christ prizeth all His relatives.” So if I prize Christ, then I will also prize the hidden Christ in my neighbor.

    George, if you would be so kind, what is the ‘fourfold’ vocation?

  • Matt

    Thomas Manton wrote, “He that prizeth the person of Christ prizeth all His relatives.” So if I prize Christ, then I will also prize the hidden Christ in my neighbor.

    George, if you would be so kind, what is the ‘fourfold’ vocation?

  • George A. Marquart

    Matt, from the original article: “Luther sorted them out into four “estates,” or spheres of life that God has established: the church, the household, the state, and what he called “the common order of Christian love.”

    George

  • George A. Marquart

    Matt, from the original article: “Luther sorted them out into four “estates,” or spheres of life that God has established: the church, the household, the state, and what he called “the common order of Christian love.”

    George

  • Another Kerner

    Bror @ #2

    Thank you for this, Bror.

    When I finally realized that I didn’t need to crank up a “warm, fuzzy feeling” for my neighbors, it was such a relief.

    Love is an “action verb” and typically, Scripture does not tell us how love “feels”.
    It shows us how love acts and what love does.

    So, if my neighbor’s house is on fire some night, I don’t need to have a “liver quiver” or feel “warm and fuzzy” before I call the fire department and then run across the road to wake them up and offer to help in any way that I am able.

    Some neighbors are simply not too likable…. but we should, because it is an “imperative”, respond with an action that remonstrates the love of Christ, who while we were yet sinners and enemies, died for us.

  • Another Kerner

    Bror @ #2

    Thank you for this, Bror.

    When I finally realized that I didn’t need to crank up a “warm, fuzzy feeling” for my neighbors, it was such a relief.

    Love is an “action verb” and typically, Scripture does not tell us how love “feels”.
    It shows us how love acts and what love does.

    So, if my neighbor’s house is on fire some night, I don’t need to have a “liver quiver” or feel “warm and fuzzy” before I call the fire department and then run across the road to wake them up and offer to help in any way that I am able.

    Some neighbors are simply not too likable…. but we should, because it is an “imperative”, respond with an action that remonstrates the love of Christ, who while we were yet sinners and enemies, died for us.


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