The Difference Between Liking and Loving

By:  Robert Brinsmead

A poor assumption is to consider the words of Jesus as spiritual advice that is not practical or possible in this world.  We need to discover that Jesus, as a sapiential teacher, rather than an apocalyptic preacher, was telling us how to live in this present world.  He has no other world in view.  There is no mythological element in his teaching because it is teaching focused clearly on this world and is something to be carried out in the here and now.  It is not some heavenly instruction.  Perhaps those theologians and churchmen who advocated the Crusades, or the extermination of the Cathars, or the massacre of St. Bartholomew, or the burning of Servetus, or the Scotts advocating the hanging of the young Akenhead, did not pay any heed to the core teaching of Jesus because they treated those words much as not applicable to the brutal realities of this real world.  Side-stepping the core teaching of Jesus has been the great mistake of Christian theology and Christian theologians.  It reminds me of Luther who also did this.  He made a distinction between behaviour in the kingdom of God and behaviour in the here and now, and having done that, he poured scorn on those Anabaptists who wanted to live by the Sermon on the Mount.  So when the peasants launched their protest (the Peasants Revolt) Luther’s advice was: “Stab the pigs.”

When the Jews would not listen to his sweet Gospel of Jesus, he lost all patience with them, advising the Germans to confiscate their property, burn their houses of worship and drive them out. Believing the words of Jesus are just spiritual advice and “out of this world” is also not the right approach for those in any kind of authority who have to deal with criminals, rapists and terrorists.

Love is practical and possible in politics, in civil life and even in times of war.  Even our more advanced, human societies have made huge strides in operating from the principle of respect and love of human life rather than acting on a sub-human justice that demands retaliation (“an eye for an eye.”)  These states do not support torture as a response for those who have tortured.  They stand for the humane treatment of prisoners, and they forbid the inhumane treatment of animals.  The whipping of naughty children is prohibited by law as a serious assault.  Human rights are taken very seriously, and when even the vilest criminal is ill, he is given the same life-saving treatment in a hospital as anyone else.  Police brutality is forbidden.  It is never permissible to assault people except in circumstances where restraining them is called for out of responsibility to protect others.  There are numerous examples or political love – of respecting and reverencing human life in all circumstances.  The universal impulse of love comes to surface in times of crisis.  Take the example of some fellow taking a severe dislike of his neighbor that may go on for years.  When the same disliked neighbor needs to be rescued from fire or drowning or from death in some emergency, it is a rare neighbor who refrains from saving the disliked man’s life.  I maintain there is a real practical difference between liking and loving.  Love is possible and even demanded even where liking the other person does not exist because the former is something that transcends feeling and sentiment.  When Schweitzer abandoned his theology because he found it all intellectually untenable, he founded his worldview on “reverence for life.”  And he went out and lived it.

I believe the idea that God can be known and worshiped as separate and above humanity, cannot be the worship of the being of God (who is beyond understanding and comprehension).  It can only be the worship of our idea of what God is – and this is the essence of breaking the second commandment, i.e. imagining what God is like, and worshiping the product of our imagination which of course is only the worship of our ideas.  This is why the God of religion with all its doctrines of God, had to disappear from my radar some years ago.  If God has ever given us an image of what God is like, that image comes to us only in human form.  The only way to know, serve and love God is to know, serve and love our neighbor, which Jesus says must include even those who are against us.

For instance, in the forming of intimate personal relationships, it is generally accepted that a personal (including a sexual or marital union) has to be on a basis of equality, especially an equality of power. Professionally speaking, it is recognized that a teacher or a health practitioner should not form such a relationship with a student or patient.  The reason for this is that one is in a position of power over the other.  In the matter of vertical relationships, it is as impossible to love up as it is impossible to love down.  The idea of loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength (as it says in the Bible) is impossible in the abstract sense; it is only possible through relating to God in and through humanity.  Giving a precedence to some God above as separate from humanity has been the source of inhumanity throughout history and it has been the inspiration and motivation to neglect, injure and destroy real people who are counted as being less deserving of our loyalty and respect than what is, after all, only an abstract human idea of God.  This is not really putting God before people, it is only putting the projection of ourselves and our image of God, before other people.

I suspect that the real reason why some people quibble about the words of Jesus is that they are so plain, so simple and so comprehensive that it makes all the theology of all the theologians and scholars look redundant.  At best, they are only a commentary on this core truth; otherwise they are just a distraction from the core truth.  I am reminded of what the greatest Pharisee of them all, Hillel, said when he was asked by a Gentile if he could explain the whole Law to him whilst he stood on one leg.  To which Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour.  Jesus certainly reflects this teaching of Hillel, for right there in Luke 6, Jesus is reported to have said, “Do unto others as you would have done to you.”  Even Paul reflects the same when he said that to love the neighbour is to fulfil the whole of the Law – not some of it, but the whole kit and caboodle of it.

It is a brave and foolish man who would want to argue with the teaching that doing to others what you would have them do to you is the core of the teaching of Jesus.  Gandhi commented that the only ones who couldn’t understand what Jesus meant were the Christians.

What makes the words of Jesus so monumental, is that in dealing with love of neighbor which is the whole of the Law and the Prophets, he redefines the neighbor from the altogether too narrow OT worldview, to include the differing and even hostile others.  This is a rejection of any sectarian or tribal kind of love.  The other startling element is that he bases this ethic of a non-retaliating love for friend and foe alike on a redefinition of God.  The wholly new kind of God is not in the business of retaliating, condemning or judging anyone, now or ever.

A few verses from Matthew and Luke sum up the duty of man, and the substance of all ethics that flow from a startling new theology.  Here is both Law and Gospel, in substance all that we need to know about ethics and all we need to know or can know about God.  The ramifications of this are enormous. If given due weight, it would render most Biblical scholarship as mere chasing after the wind.