We, about fifty all together, had been invited to meet at Salon 3, a local restaurant which had been reserved for us.
The banter was light hearted, somewhat boisterous, and certainly high spirited. Looking around, I was happy to see a good number of folk I knew. Sitting beside me, John suddenly caught a glimpse of Martin, and in full voice shouted, “Hey, Martin, let’s get together at break time, ok?” Martin’s full bass voice came thundering back, “Yes, and I have some good news to tell you about.” John and Martin’s banter was completely fitting for the group of guys in Salon 3.
We all savored the dinner. No disappointment there. The appetizer was followed by a pasta al horno (baked pasta) dish, followed by the filet mignon with the mixed salad and baked potatoes. And, I can’t ignore the abundant serving of still warm baked custard. And, of course, the bread, the wine, and the cheeses were delicious accompaniments. Dining in a first class private room at Salon 3 could hardly be called a sacrifice!
We all knew that the dinner, for as fine as it was, would be followed by a discourse, one we were all anticipating. The invited speaker was well known in Buenos Aires, and we had much anticipation to hear his discourse.
The jovial, warm hearted, loose spirit set quite a context for what we would hear. As I looked around I saw no frowns on anyone’s face, I heard no sharp words among anyone, I saw no one trying to play one-upmanship on anyone else; it was a pleasant, fun, light hearted atmosphere full of laughter. Any under currents of misunderstandings or bitterness anywhere in the room were well covered over and/or conveniently ignored; but the impression was that all the attendees were on the same happy wave length.
About ten minutes into his discourse, Daniel A made a statement that seemed natural, given the religious tenor of the attendees. “God orders us to love.” The expression in itself was not new to anyone in the room. Nonetheless, in light of the joviality permeating the group, it seemed out of context to say to us, “God orders us to love.”
I realized that among those gathered to listen to Daniel, some would say that if love doesn’t arise naturally it is not love; we have mislabeled it. To love “naturally” happens when no effort is expended, no thought is given to it; we just follow what comes unthinkingly, without effort, without premeditated intentions. If we don’t love, it is because the context didn’t lend itself to loving.
This is why I sensed that Daniel’s comment was so striking. To think of love as “natural” when we happen to be in the appropriate context, was consistent with the atmosphere in the room, where all felt as if the group relationships were just fine.
To the degree that such thinking is correct, does it even make sense to talk about being ordered to love? We don’t have to focus on loving, but on establishing a friendly and warm atmosphere, where the vibes are fine, and then just follow our instincts. We will love, no ordering necessary. In fact, it would be inappropriate to imply that there was a need to command love. After all, you can’t put love on the agenda, can you???
Nonetheless, there is a great truth within the expression of being ordered to love. First, the human volition is still part of what we (Christians included) are. We have to continually be deciding to either obey God or not obey Him. Thus, the volition is in play. Second, we must never ignore the question, “what is love?” Is it not, after all is said and done, much more than simply a sentiment like needing to cry? Love is an intellectual decision to act in accord to the needs and well being of the other person. When we love, we consciously allow the well being of the other to supersede our own well being. God orders me to so live and to so love. Loving others is not simply doing what comes natural. To love is to conduct ourselves as God conducts Himself.
I have come to see that God orders us to do other things, not just love. Some of these behaviors appear as difficult as loving someone. For example, God tells us to rejoice always. I will not be able to excuse myself by saying to God, “Rejoicing doesn’t arise naturally for me, God, so how could I rejoice if I don’t want to?”
The Christian life is radical. If I don’t always rejoice I am guilty of disobeying God. If I don’t love, I am also guilty of disobeying God. That is to say, I am guilty of disobeying God’s will for humanity, and any infraction of such nature is unacceptable.
I recall the day when I pointed this out to my Greek class – they sat there with their mouths open, speechless. A genuine tribute to “silence is golden.”