The root of compassion.
"We love each other because he loved us first." 1 John 4:19 NLT
If there is one need that we all carry with us regardless of age, socio-economic background or ethnicity, it is the need to be loved unconditionally. This need is built into the very fabric of our being; we want a safe place where we can go and be loved without fear of rejection, a place where even at our worst, we are not deemed an outcast, and we're still embraced. A person cannot truly grow spiritually unless they know that even at their worst, there is a place where they can go and still be embraced. Unfortunately, this goes against everything that a performance-oriented society teaches us, and because we live in a world so entangled in discord, political-strife, economic oppression, dissension, and war, it is very difficult to find that place where love does not come with several strings attached to it.
Church is supposed to be a place where we can come and receive this kind of love, but unfortunately, what you may often find in church is a polished version of what you find in the secular world, a place where you are accepted by God's grace in principle, but denied that love in practice unless you follow the right denominational rules (whatever those may be).
Author and pastoral counselor Paul Tournier made a very poignant observation when he said, "The Church proclaims the grace of God. And moralism, which is the negation of it, always creeps back into its bosom...Grace becomes conditional. Judgment appears...I see every day its ravages in all the Christian churches." The fact that Mr. Tournier said that he sees "its ravages in all Christian churches" goes to show that we have a long way to go when it comes to truly accepting the unique contribution that Jesus brought into the world - the message of grace. Our struggles accepting this message, ironically enough, also show that we are indeed fallible and need the very grace that we talk about. When we do accept this message of God's grace (love without strings), we will then realize that we have the same propensity for wrongdoing that is present in the lives of those whom we hate the most, a very humbling fact when you think about it.
We have so perverted the meaning of the word "love" that we have misconstrued it to mean some sort of mushy feeling that we get similar to when you are having your favorite meal or participating in a favorite hobby. But when this is translated to our interaction with others and we say that we love someone based on some quality that we find admirable in that person, or because of something that they can do for us, we don't really love them, we only cherish their ability to perform for us or make us feel good. You only know that you truly love someone when they cannot pay you back in return for the love that you give them.
If we are going to heal and be agents of healing for others, we have to first realize that God's love for us is not predicated on our ability to perform for Him. God is not some heavenly boss who is impressed with our consecutive weeks of church attendance, or record number of Scripture verses memorized or the fact that you have not used a cuss word in 5 years. To place our performance against the backdrop of Biblical law is to come face to face with our true debt and fallibility. It is only when we realize this that we can truly appreciate what it means to be forgiven and loved by God, and therefore pass this love on to others. Too often, however, we put the cart before the horse, telling broken people who barely know what love is themselves to "get at it, and love others..come on, do it!" But to attempt to love someone else when you barely love yourself is to only use another person to feel good about yourself...
It is my hope and prayer that wherever you are broken, you may experience the ravishing effect of true love.
Stephen Oladotun Akinduro
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