The End of Us: Where Love Is Not Enough

Love is not enough.

I’m a pastor, so I’m not supposed to say that. As a minister of the gospel, I’m supposed to say that love “bears all, believes all, endures all,” etc. That love conquered the grave. The love is made perfect in Christ, and therefore perfects us all.

Love will keep us together. Love lifts us up where we belong. Love is all you need.

At some point, it all starts to sound the same, and it all starts to ring hollow. People have had enough of silly love songs.

When the world is on fire, we need more than love. When each day brings news of more terror; and when each act of violence sparks another violent response, escalating in intensity; when each loss of life brings a wave of new and often misdirected rage; you’d better believe we need love. But love alone is not enough.

Police officers kill black men, because black men in our country are guilty until proven innocent.  And then shooters disrupt a peaceful protest with a hail of gunfire, and the bullets cut down officers who are faithfully protecting the right to protest. And then there is public outcry about the protest itself, even though the killers were not connected with the protest movement… And we do not know what’s next, but it all spins into chaos and rage. We do not know what’s next, but we know this much: so far, love and good intentions have failed us.

I hear some people calling for acts of love and demonstrations of kindness, however small, to our neighbors. This is important. Not just today but every day. It is important–but not enough.

I also hear people wishing that we could just “see past skin color” and “not make this about race.” That would be good. But it’s not enough.

When hate gets this loud and violent, we are called beyond love. We are called to active compassion; prophetic speech; deep listening; transformative engagement. I don’t always know what that looks like…but I do know that ignoring the role of race in this violent narrative will not accomplish anything. I can love a black person without understanding them. I can love my neighbor without feeling her pain, without entering his struggle.

The God I know gets closer than that. God put on flesh and came to love us in person. And when that wasn’t enough, God entered the struggle. That same God suffered and was humiliated and was even willing to die, to know our brokenness.

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This is the closest I can come to understanding atonement–that we were not left to the dust; but that we are left with the ashes. We are left with the remains of God’s broken dream for creation, and it is our blessing and our burden to bear the weight of it. To shape it into something new.

Yes, that means love. But we can love safely from a distance, and for today, that is not enough. Today we are called to enter the suffering; to sit with the ashes, and hold them, and know once and for all what it costs us to live in such comfortable exile from the other.

If you are feeling deeply heartbroken today, maybe that is good news. Deeply feeling another’s loss is a thin place, and thin places are holy. When our words run out, when our good intentions fall short, when even human love fails us, then God can move into the void and do a new thing. So maybe today is for sitting in that uncomfortable place between, and finally admitting that we are at the end of our rope. That we are tired of lighting candles and singing sad songs. That our best words, our best art, the very best of our creeds and laws and statutes utterly fail in the face of this.

Maybe only there, at the end of us, is room for something holy to move. Maybe there we can know what it is to step into the suffering of another, on purpose, out of love. Maybe then we will know what it is to pick up what’s left

and follow.

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