“Love’s Justice”

Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1667-1670

Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1667-1670

Love’s Justice

Is love inconsistent with justice in our human interactions?  At times we hear the words “tough love” uttered by parents who wish to instill in their children some important life lesson, and often there is a struggle in determining a clear set of determining principles as to how this process is to be carried out.

Jesus tells a story about a father and his two sons.  One son was dutiful and stayed home to work for his father.  The other was rebellious: he demanded his inheritance upfront, went to a far country, and spent all his resources on riotous living.  When his money ran out, and he recognized the error of his ways, he repented and journeyed back home, hoping he would find work as one of his father’s servants.

But instead of giving a scathing rebuke for all that the wayward son had done, the father adorned his son with the best robe, put a ring on his finger, and sandals for his feet.  Then he ordered the fatted calf to be killed, and a feast prepared.  The dutiful son was terribly upset at his father’s actions towards his long-lost brother.  He refused to join in the feast and stayed outside in the darkness of his own creation — the darkness of a harsh spirit and a lack of love for his sibling.

A strange story perhaps,  for there was no logical and expected justice served to the wayward son, but a total reversal of expected outcomes: the obedient son is standing outside in darkness, while the rebellious son is reveling inside the house, feasting with his father.

What then, becomes of justice in this story?  Jesus gives the assurance that Love is the only real justice, for the main purpose of justice is not punishment, but reclamation. A justice that is truly enlightened is less concerned with the punishment of wrong than its reparation.

Had the father issued a harsh verdict against the prodigal son, coldly dismissing him, he would have been unjust to his son’s future potential, and thus would have sinned a more grievous sin against his own son.  The worst sinner in the story was the son who did everything right, and yet acted in a vile, censorious, loveless way towards his brother.

One who does not love cannot be just.

God is Love, and God’s forgiveness is God’s justice, for if we acknowledge the error of our ways, and head back home to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our shortcomings, and to restore us into fellowship with Him, our Heavenly Father,  through His Son Jesus Christ.

* William J. Dawson, “The Empire of Love”, New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907, pp 33-44.
* Luke 15: 11-32, King James Version

The Attributes of Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” I John 4:7

As children of God, we are commanded to love one another. If it were simply a matter of liking one another, then our obedience would easily be fulfilled. The commandment to love, however, is more difficult to accomplish.

What is the difference between liking and loving a person?

The two concepts are not degrees of the same thing. To like somebody is something instinctive and elemental; it does not necessitate effort; it comes naturally and is dependent to a large degree upon the physical senses and outward appearances.

The word “love” has sadly been debased and misused in modern parlance, often being associated with infatuation. But love is something that must be thought of in terms of God, because the Bible tells us that God is love.

Love is a highly intelligent process. In contrast to liking somebody, love is not driven by instinct or natural responses, but operates at a higher level. It is determined to go beyond the superficial, infiltrating the inner person, to dig into something deeper and of more value. Love overcomes obstacles and excuses, overlooks the superficial unattractiveness, in order to behold the person behind the imperfections.

We employ our mental faculties, as an act of the will, to love even the people we do not like; we treat them as if we do like them, and choose to act with kindness towards them in spite of our natural feelings.  It is an act of obedience.

And yet there is more to love.   As the apostle John asserts: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how can the love of God abide in him?” I John 3:17

Love drives us out of our seat of theorizing and romanticism, to do something about easing the pain of our fellowman. By its very nature love must express itself, not in words, but in actions.

Such are the salient attributes of love, and the reason we are commanded to love one another is because love is of God. And love is the litmus test of our being born of God, of our knowing God, and of our passing from death unto life.

** Reference: Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ, Crossway:Wheaton, Illinois, 1982, pp. 357-366.

** Photograph: On Golden Pond by Artemis

How to Follow the Golden Rule

” because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Romans 8:21

My previous post expounded upon how the Golden Rule is the quintessential summary of the law and the prophets.  Such exposition would not be complete without considering why, after the Golden Rule has been before mankind’s face for over two thousand years, multitudes still do not follow it.  The problem of human relationships is raging as ever now in modern times as it was the very first time the Lord first introduced this glorious principle.

Why do human beings abandon this lofty rule for living? Why are there ongoing disputes between and among nations, in families, and at the cellular level, between two people?

The reason is biblical and theological.  One of the fundamental statements of the gospel is that man is sinful and perverted.  Everything can be brought down to one word: “self”.  Loving our neighbor as ourself is the one thing we do not do because we love self so much in a distorted and excessive way, that it is difficult to apply the Golden Rule.  Man is selfish by nature.

How then can one follow the Golden Rule?  The gospel solution starts with God: to start with the greatest commandment to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength”.  We start with God, not with our neighbor.

We turn from all our human relationship problems, the disputes and quarelling,  and we turn to God, and look into His face.  We see Him in all His holiness, His greatness, His almightiness and creative power, and humble ourselves before Him. The knowledge of God brings the realization of our poverty of spirit, our unworthiness, and of our utter need of Him.  In turn, we see other people as ourselves,  no longer as our competitors trying to beat us out in our worldly endeavors, but as victims like us, of sin and of the god of this world. We are both in the same predicament of overwhelming helplessness, that together we must run to Christ and avail ourselves of His wonderful grace of salvation.

It is when we have been delivered from the captivity of self that we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we begin to enjoy the “glorious liberty of the children of God.”

*** Reference: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”, Martino Publishing, CT, 2011, pp. 211-216.

*** Photography: Sunrise by Giangiorgio Crisponi