I’ve recently begun to think of my life as a long train ride to a destination about which I know very little for certain, but my impression is that it is a good place to go. Arrival time is not announced, but the older we passengers get, the more the conductor encourages us to be ready to disembark at any time.
One thing I’ve noticed. For most of this journey so far, I could observe the passing countryside through the windows on one side of the train only. The windows on the other side were obscured in some way. I could see movement through them, but the images appeared blurred or distorted.
I somehow convinced myself that the view from that side of the train must be inferior to what I could see from my side. People on my side of the train told me as much and refused to think otherwise, even when they were given an opportunity to look through the windows on the other side.
For the last few hundred miles, however, perhaps one tenth of the journey so far, I have found a place where the windows on the other side are clear—not so blurry and distorted. I finally am seeing what I had been missing, and I’m finding that the view is good over there, often better than it had been on my side. It may be late in the journey, but it feels like a new adventure.
I used to deride “liberals” who reduced Christian faith to the words of Jesus, “love God… and love your neighbor.” Then it occurred to me that some of the people who held this view—a view I had dismissed as too liberal, benighted and ill-conceived—some of those people were smarter than I am, more thoughtful, caring, and consistent than I am.
Many of them loved Jesus just as much as I do and still came to a different conclusion about how to be an instrument of God’s love and peace. Maybe I was the one who needed to change.
I’ve been a Christian more than fifty years and a minister more than forty. It has finally hit me. It really is that simple. Christian faith really can be summarized in terms of Jesus’ words:
Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
I am a graduate of a Bible college, a Christian liberal arts college, and a theological seminary. I appreciate all I learned in those institutions. Nothing I learned there, however, is more important for faithful Christian discipleship than that one simple truth: love God, love one another.
I’m coming to understand, however, that love like that is only possible as a product of our deep, personal, and intimate awareness of God’s love for us. That is why we need each other so desperately. God’s love cannot be experienced in the abstract. It needs to be known in community. It needs to be observed and felt and appreciated as it comes to us through other people. It needs to have skin.
In the past, when I identified more closely with the evangelical strand of contemporary Christianity, I heard a lot about the love of God. Too often, however, instead of unfettered and unbounded love toward people, I encountered reasons and excuses why that love could not be extended in full measure until the people who needed it most met certain conditions. A few years ago, however, I realized I could no longer live my life that way.
I don’t care how much Christians talk about the unconditional love of God, most people will never experience nor appreciate that love until and unless it is mediated to them by means of another human being. (And ideally, a lot more than just one other human being… an entire community.) In other words, we don’t convince people of the love of God by telling them about it. We convince people of the unconditional love of God by loving them unconditionally.
I have decided to cast my lot with those who know that and seek to practice it most consistently, without excuses.