We see them at our workplaces, often in our families, even in our marriages. Most of us have felt them; some of us are currently living in them. In our personal lives, they usually start as love relationships that build resentments over time. In our work lives, they may start without emotional content, but as people are thrown together on teams at work, they may develop honest affection that is coupled with irritations and aggravations at the work ethics and idiosyncrasies of others – especially when work products and promotions may ride on the success of the team effort.
Traditional marriage roles are especially good at engendering love-hate relationships. We often see couples who, the more the years pass, the deeper the love is, but simultaneously the more conflicted it is with unresolved issues and anger.
Maybe it is the prevalence of love-hate relationships – and the violence and pain that can result from the hate side of the equation – that lies at the root of the New Testament emphasis on love. The two main commandments are to love God and to love others. We are told that God is love and that we must strive to live as nearly like love as possible. Virtually all of the world religions emphasize compassion in human interactions, and compassion requires some level of love and an absence of hate.
One of our main tasks in life, apparently, is learning to love without allowing hate to grow up alongside it.
“Reading time, like writing time, is precious. Don’t waste it on mediocre books,” wrote Kate Southwood in a recent blog. Seems like I am always finding books that leave me thinking – books that I don’t consider mediocre – and the most recent of these is What Jesus Meant (Viking Penguin, 2006) by Garry Wills, emeritus professor of history, Northwestern University, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
The book discusses various ways that we have complicated Jesus’ message or tried to not hear what the Gospels report that he said. “More than any other teacher of nonviolence … he was absolute and inclusive in what he forbade,” writes Wills. Referring to the passage of specific instructions in Luke 6:27-38, Wills adds, “Tremendous ingenuity has been expended to compromise these uncompromising words. Jesus is too much for us. The churches’ later treatment of the gospels is one long effort to rescue Jesus from his ‘extremism.'”
Many people associate Jesus and religion as inseparable from each other, but Wills points out: “The most striking, resented, and dangerous of Jesus’ activities was his opposition to religion as that was understood in his time. This is what led to his death. Religion killed him.” Wills writes of Jesus’ active opposition to all formalism in worship, and as to what Jesus might think of religion today: “it would probably look all too familiar, perpetuating the very things he criticized in the cleanliness code, the Sabbath rules, the sacrifices, and the Temple.”
Wills declares at the outset that the book is not meant to be scholarly but to be devotional: a profession of faith. Jesus came to “instill a religion of the heart.” The test of whether we have lived our lives in accordance with what Jesus meant is simple: “Did you treat everyone, high and low, as if dealing with Jesus himself, with his own inclusive and gratuitous love, the revelation of the Father’s love, whose sunshine is shed on all.”
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how important believing is. This seems to be true in almost any arena of life you could mention: from athletes who perform so much better when they believe they have the skill to surpass previous records to sales people who have significantly better sales if they believe in what they are selling. But the specific context I’m thinking about is the God context. It looks to me as though believing is pretty crucial here too.
The Gospel of John speaks a lot about believing, most famously in 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, NIV). But the verses I am presently most impressed by are in Ephesians 1:17–19, where Paul is writing about “the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe….” (Amp). What is striking a chord with me is not the part God plays in the equation, spectacular as that is, but the part we play. Admittedly the Amplified Bible throws in extra adjectives to make it more impressive, but even the NIV is unequivocal: “his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
It seems clear that a great power is available to us … if we believe that it is available to us. Our belief is an essential, activating ingredient.
I belatedly heard today a fabulous interview conducted by entrepreneur Brendon Burchard of author Paulo Coelho (the new Manuscript Found in Accra as well as the earlier book The Alchemist). I use the reference “belatedly” because the interview was published on the Internet a couple of days ago, and only today did I hear it.
In the course of it, Paulo Coelho made reference to his frequent prayer: “Lord, give us today our daily miracle and forgive us if we are unable to recognize it.”
You will see your own blessings in this quotation. Here are a few I find: (1) We can pray boldly and ask for miracles to occur in our lives. (2) We apparently have a right to at least one miracle every day. (3) When the miracles come, we might miss them if we aren’t paying attention. (4) Even that oversight can be forgiven, if we but ask.
My best miracle for today was hearing that interview!