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Living Water
to Light the Journey


Chapter Nineteen

Love



Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all. 

G.K. Chesterton

 

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.

Saint Paul

First Letter to the Corinthians, The Bible

 

Now - here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

Douglas Coupland

Life after God

 

How was our earth formed? Perhaps there was a “Big Bang”, as a lot of scientists aver. Some observers say that this theory accords remarkably with the biblical story of creation. (Astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, commenting on Big Bang, has stated: “An explosion in a junkyard does not lead to sundry bits of metal being assembled into a useful working machine.”)

 

The great continent of Australia was formed, and the first Aboriginal settlers arrived. The Aborigines had no doubt that the land was sacred, and that God was present within their midst. They lived their lives accordingly. But the arrival of Europeans led to many immoral acts, some of them carried out in God’s own name. Yet still he continued to pour out his blessings on our land.

 

He inspired some remarkable people, such as Caroline Chisholm and Weary Dunlop and others profiled in this book. They were not monks or mystics, nor were they academics or scholars; they were practical people. Their loyalties towards the institutional church were not always strong. But they loved Australia, and they made it a far better country for everyone.

 

Today we have more problems. There is a sense of despair among too many young people. We have allowed a spiritual vacuum to infiltrate our society, and throughout this book I have called for a renewed emphasis on character education and for more spirituality in our culture.

 

But that is not enough. It is possible to develop a privatised morality, of ostensibly high character, that ignores public suffering; or a spirituality that is entirely inward looking and navel-gazing. I recall World War II. The Germans were big on character development. The Japanese saw the struggle as between their superior spirit and American materialism.

 

Something more is needed: an attitude of love.

 

It is not just the love we hear about in pop songs that is important, but a transcendent love that unites us with our fellow humans and, ultimately, with God. It is the love that Jesus means when he tells us to love our enemies, a revolutionary command in his day, and one which is little obeyed today. According to Leon Morris, former principal of Melbourne’s Ridley College: “Love is central to the whole way of life of the follower of Jesus”.

 

It is the love that Weary Dunlop felt was beyond him when he was incarcerated in a barbaric Japanese prisoner of war camp, and was unable to love his captors (thereby proving that he was human and not divine). It is the love felt by a Mary MacKillop or a Caroline Chisholm towards the underprivileged.

 

Love can take many forms. One expression is in the act of forgiveness, as Weary Dunlop forgave his enemies. It shows itself in service, which William Damon touched on in Greater Expectations:

 

Even if our children were being raised to become the best informed, most artistic and healthiest children that the world has ever seen, it would all come to nothing unless they found some things beyond themselves, and indeed some people other than themselves, to devote at least a part of their efforts to.

 

But Christian love is even more. It is best illustrated by the words of the apostle John in the Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” In other words, it is sacrificial love; love which demands that we be prepared to sacrifice all we have that is precious to us. And still that is not enough.

 

At the head of Chapter 9, I quoted from Joseph Furphy’s classic Australian work Such is Life. He stated that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a “practical, workable code of daily life”.

 

Don’t believe a word of it. As I wrote: Jesus demands that his followers not resist evil people, that they give their property to whomever asks, that if someone slaps them on one cheek, they should offer the other cheek to that person, that if someone takes away their shirts, they should give their coats as well. “You are to be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect,” he told them.

 

That is the kind of sacrifice ultimately required by Christian love: a self-emptying sacrifice, an ideal of absolute self-denial and personal purity. One writer said of the Sermon on the Mount that to read it once is to find it impossible, but read it a few more times and suddenly nothing else becomes possible. It is an ethic that involves total surrender to the divine, in a spiritual caress of pure love that lifts and transforms. Few can achieve it.

 

Caroline Chisholm knew what was required when she wrote - in the first-ever publication in Australia by a woman - that she resolved to “in every way sacrifice my feelings - surrender all comfort - nor, in fact, consider my own wishes or feelings”. Mary MacKillop knew it, too, when she wrote that, “In the discharge of what appeared to be my duty I felt it impossible to consider my own feelings no matter how much they had to be trampled upon”.

 

 

It is sadly ironic that so many Australians do make genuine sacrifices in order to achieve what they regard as the good life. Yet when they reach the pinnacle - the plush house, the beach cottage, the cars, the private schools, the overseas travel - they are left wondering: Is this it? Too often we become prisoners of this material world we inhabit. Jesus pointed to this spiritual vacuum in our lives in his Sermon on the Mount, when he asked rhetorically: “Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?” It is indeed startling to find so many successful people with such emptiness in their lives.

 

Noting a spiritual revival among many Americans, Harvard University preacher Peter J. Gomes commented, in The Good Book: “I think we have reached that point where so many thousands of able, disappointed, and questing people are prepared to exchange the good life for the life that is good.”

 

It is this spiritual vacuum in our lives that was analysed so astutely by popular young Canadian post-modern novelist Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X, Microserfs and Polaroids from the Dead. In Life after God he made the memorable observation that I cited at the head of this chapter: “My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone….I need God to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

 

A growing number of pilgrims know that they cannot make it alone. So they reach out. And in reaching out they find themselves anointed with love; and as they are touched with love they feel their souls starting to open. It is a sacred spiral that ascends right up to God.

 

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