Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 12

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Always Protects.

Love always protects. We know that. It’s an intuitive, maybe even an instinctive knowledge that when we love someone, we want to protect them. Anything that threatens a loved one’s welfare arouses our concern and prompts us to react in some way. We call it the ‘mother bear’ response; there is nothing angrier than a mother bear that rightly or wrongly perceives a threat approaching her cubs.

“Anger,” explains author Timothy Keller, “is a form of …(and) the result of love. It is energy for defense of something you love when it is threatened. If you don’t love something at all, you are not angry when it is threatened. If you love something a little, you get a little angry when it is threatened. If something you love is an ‘ultimate concern’ if it is something that gives you meaning in life, then when it is threatened you will get uncontrollably angry.”

If Keller’s observation is accurate, it sheds some interesting insight into the loves of our life. Our anger—one expression of our instinct to protect what we love—becomes a gauge by which we can recognize and measure our loves. Road rage indicates how much we love our autonomy on the roadways, our ‘right’ to move unhindered in that mechanical-social space. Family violence indicates how much we love our selfish ‘rights’, our desire to have our own way in the more intimate social environment of our homes. Constructive anger aimed at injustices against the poor and needy—those who can never repay us—indicates a level of selfless love most similar to the Bible’s description of the protection that characterizes God.

The great theme running through every page of the Bible is God’s expression of loving protection for the human race. It starts with creating a world that contains everything human beings would need to sustain life, limb, and a flourishing relationship with God Himself. But very soon it becomes obvious that God’s gift of freewill to His human creatures allows each of us to get ourselves into messes of mortal danger—danger arising from the sin-wounded world, our sin-stained selves, and the sin-tempting evil one. So God enacts His perfect plan to offer ultimate protection to our souls: He presences Himself as a living, breathing flesh-and-bones man to take upon Himself the danger and trouble we earned. Only this one sinless God-Man could do this for us—allow Himself to be slain like a she-bear to protect His young from evil.

C.S. Lewis pictures this significant event as the lion Aslan shorn and slaughtered on the great stone table by the White Witch. Then, in a surprise twist to the assumed outcome, He who is Life Immortal conquers death’s venom by his indomitable spirit and offers it to us as a gift called salvation. This is the quintessence and epitome of God’s love, a love that “always protects.”

Listen to how the psalmist puts it: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart…If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent” (Psalm 91:1-4,9).

There will still be illnesses and wounds on this earth. There will continue to be injustices and wars, famines and terrors of many kinds. We will all face death. But for those who accept Jesus’ great gift, who entrust themselves to Him, and make Him the daily dwelling of their souls, there is the surety of protection from ultimate harm.

So how do we expropriate this aspect of love that always protects? First, we must entrust ourselves to Jesus, the only completely loving and protecting One. His love must infiltrate our hearts in order that we may rightly love others.

Secondly, we must take inventory of our own tendencies in expressing anger, specifically toward others. We must ask whether our own outbursts of protection and anger are against people or against evil. If it is aimed at people, it shows us that our love of ourselves has come to take precedence over all other love. We prefer self-protection to protecting others.

Thirdly, we must find ways to overcome the evil that threatens others, by doing good. “Love your enemies,” directs Jesus, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Copy Jesus. This is how love always protects.

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 8

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Is not Easily Angered.

We have read so far that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking…” Now we add “it is not easily angered.” It’s no surprise that the description of love as “not easily angered” falls close on the heels of “not self-seeking.” Anger is a close relative of the self-seeking behaviours.

From toddlerhood each of us develops extensive and creative systems for our own self-defense; its first expression is inevitably in the angry use of the word “No!” wielded with great authority from lips little more than novices in their own mother tongue. We learn early to defend our own self-determined plans and before long become masters at the task.

Self-defense—and by this I do not mean primarily physical protection of one’s self—is necessary when there is no one outside of ourselves to whom we can entrust the job of protection. If I see myself as the primary person responsible for guarding and fortifying the value of me (my ideas, my hopes and my dreams), I must practice self-defense. I must build certain walls and barriers to protect my vulnerabilities from being discovered, and my plans from being hindered. And in some cases, when my defense warning system is deployed, a weapon must be wielded to ensure self-protection—I give vent to unmitigated anger.

“For many,” observes C.S. Lewis, “the great obstacle to (love) lies … in our fear—fear of insecurity.” We may not consciously admit it to ourselves, but we are afraid for our very lives and we’re scrabbling to cover that fear with bluster.

The Biblical directives toward restraining anger are not external and superficial fixes. They are not commands to control our rage on the outside, while we continue to seethe and smolder or shake and shiver within. They get to the root of the problem, to our inner need to solve the problem of our insecurity. Let’s be ruthlessly honest: none of us is capable of loving like this chapter in I Corinthians suggests. We are rightfully insecure to recognize how little capable of loving (not to mention living rightly) we truly are.

Jesus once explained to a couple of disconsolate travelers that Scripture is not a list of dos and don’ts. It is not quick fixes or fake smiles. Scripture is all about Himself, Jesus—it’s a picture of Him coming into our sad human condition and offering us something we can never create for ourselves. He is the great Rock and Shield who alone can defend and protect our inner selves. He gave the Emmaus Road travelers example after example, and the revelation opened their eyes and ears.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” they asked each other afterward in awe. This was not the burning of anger but the warmth and energy of Christ’s loving Spirit entering into their hearts and minds and souls. This was the great ‘ah hah’ moment; they finally understood that Christ was moving through history to ensure He would—in God’s perfect timing—die for all humanity to rescue us all from our great insecurity, and then rise to lead us to everlasting life.

Jesus is perfect love. He initiates loving us, and if we receive His overtures, we find ourselves dropping our guard and finding true inner rest. The events or persons or situations that used to anger us now fall more and more under the influence and authority of Jesus, our Protector.

So once more we find Jesus to be relevant to life. No more hiding behind ramparts, shooting angry darts at others and causing chaos all round. When we come to Jesus for love, we gradually learn to recklessly love others without defending ourselves. No need for anger. Anger never worked anyways.

(Photo Credit: By Darren Shilson from St Stephen, UK, United Kingdom (Pendennis Castle B+W Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)