Love What Is Good

Love What Is Good July 9, 2023

Johnhain: Love / Pixabay

Love is at the heart of the Christian message. God loves humanity, indeed, God loves the world and all creation, even after it has been defiled by sin. Sin should not to be viewed as a real, ontological substance. Rather, it the effect which comes about due to a choice, an act of will, and it is established when someone chooses a particular good for themselves at the expense of the greater good, leading to the corruption or destruction of some element of that greater good. Sin, therefore, creates a wound, as it were, a wound which needs to be healed so that the good which was lost or corrupted can be restored. God loves everyone and everything, including those who engage in sin. God sees the harm they do, a harm which affects the sinner as much as those around them, and wants to heal the world from all the devastating effects of sin. God does this through the incarnation, whereby God shows us the greatness of the divine love as the incarnate God-man who willingly takes the burdens, the pains and sorrows of sin upon himself. He is willing to carry it all, and to endure the full force of sin upon himself, letting it do all that it can and will do, so that sin can be shown to be limited and has an end. And, as much of the sin he takes upon himself, he gives of himself to the world, that is, he gives his grace in exchange, grace which can work as a healing balm for those who accept it and therefore cooperate with in and through their lives. In the incarnation, therefore, God shows us how much love God has for us, and in doing so, also, shows us also how we are to love, for God became man not only to heal the world, but to show us where we have gone astray so that we can find ourselves once again following the path to greater, and greater good instead of finding ourselves charmed by some lesser good which will never satisfy us.

Thus, we are told we are to love God, the greatest good, with all our hearts, minds, and soul, so that we can be united with God in that love. If we do so, we are promised our share and experience of the glory of the kingdom of God. Likewise, we are to love what God loves. As God loves even those who set themselves in opposition to divine love, that is, those who would view themselves as God’s enemies, we, likewise, are to love them, even if they like to think of themselves as our enemies. God doesn’t love the sin; indeed, God is opposed to sin, as Scripture indicates many times, which is why justice must not to be ignored. However, we must understand God’s justice serves God’s love, and works and promotes God’s desire for all to be free from the pain and sorrow sin causes. Divine justice cannot be seen as being opposed to God’s love, but rather, as a way in which God’s love is made manifest. Similarly, we should love others, including those who would deem themselves as our enemies, while still having a heart for justice. That mean, we must show our care and concern for others, and one of the ways we do that is work for the elimination of structures of sin in the world. This is why Paul, in speaking of our love for others, points out we must do so while holding onto what is good and true: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:9-10 RSV).

When Paul said we are to hate what is evil, he was not telling us to hate other people. People are inherently good, and so, we are to love others thanks to that goodness. What we are to hate is the corruption of that goodness, that is the evil which people do, and the way that evil affects and corrupts them. Evil does not exist in and of itself. It has no substance of its own. It is a concept which serves to represent what is found in the difference between the good which should be there and what is actually there, making it therefore, the privation of the good, a privation which threatens to grow and fester so long as what caused it is not properly dealt with and the wound it established is healed.

We are to love others with genuine love because everyone has good in them, and that good deserves to be loved and respected; but that does not mean we have to give approval to the evil they do in order to love them. Indeed, we should reject that evil because we love them and want the best for them. We must do what we can to help protect what is good, but only in a way which itself is just and good (which is why we must also uphold freedom, giving people the ability to make choices for themselves, for if we deprive people of that freedom, we deprive them of a great good, and so would end up sinning ourselves). The more we do this, the more we find ourselves distinguishing the sin from the sinner, the better we will be at loving others as we should. Then, with that love, we will be able to share the grace we have received with others, for that love will create the bond which allows grace to flow, and with that flow of grace, we will see healing done to the world. The more we do this, the more, then we become like God, as St. Isaac the Syrian understood:

Not to love or hate someone on account of his ways, but to love him for himself, beyond searching <his> ways, as God <does>. Indeed, ways may change but you, before someone of your nature remains immutable, in the image of God.  Indeed, in the washing of regeneration, He has given you His likeness. Made incorruptible in the mystery, take care to have and incorruptible intelligence, according to the model you have received. [1]

The more we embrace love, the more we will resemble God because God is love. The more we follow the path set up and established by God’s love in the incarnation, that is, the path of the cross, the more we will find ourselves loving others, including and especially those who wish us ill. As we do so, we will come to better understand how God can and does love us despite all the pain and suffering we have caused, that is, for all the evil we have done. This is not to say, of course, we should just shrug off sin and think nothing of it; far from it – instead, we should realize how serious the problem of sin is so that we can then work to free everyone from its bondage. We do this by following after Jesus. He brought healing grace to the world, helping people move on from the wounds of sin, which, is why he said that when he brought physical healing to people he was also bringing them spiritual healing, forgiveness, as well, as for example, when Jesus healed a paralytic man:

And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, take up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.  When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men (Matt. 9:2-8 RSV).

We, likewise, should share the grace we have been given and use it to help those crippled by sin. We should offer it to them, telling them that if they accept the grace we have to share, they can use it to cast aside their sin, that is, to realize they that they do not need to identify themselves by their sins but by the inherent goodness given to them by God. The one who accepts this grace will then be able to accept such forgiveness, for they understand and see that there is something in themselves worth loving. This is why, when we speak, we can and should be critical of injustices, indeed, we must find against injustice and the sin which caused them, we must also never forget the reason why we do so. That is, we must never forget the foundation of all our concerns should be love, a love which seeks to promote and help the dignity of all people for the goodness which is found in them.

[1] St. Isaac the Syrian, “The Third Part.” Trans. Mary T. Hansbury in An Anthology of Syriac Writers From Qatar in the Seventh Century. Ed. Mario Kozah, Abdulrahim Abu-Husayn, Saif Shaeen Al-Murikhi and Haya Al Thani (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2015), 318 [IV.26].


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