“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you: bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the conrtrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him: if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12: 9-21 NIV).
Love Must Be Sincere
“So, what are you planning to do for the Easter long weekend?” John asked. He and Sofi were over for an asado at our house at noon on Good Friday. Vero was taking care of all the extras but I was in charge of cooking the chorizos on the parrilla. Potatoe salad and wine usually accompanied the traditional meal in Argentina and we were having a good time.
“Well,” I said. “Tonight our church family is getting together at 7pm to watch The Passion of the Christ. You know, the film that Mel Gibson made.”
“I’ve seen it,” Sofi said. “A bit gruesome.”
“I think that was supposed to be the idea,” my wife said. “The Romans were pretty cruel people and crucifiction is probably the worst way to die.”
“Do you think it’s a realistic view of what actually happened?” John asked me.
“I think so,” I said. “But the thing to remember is that it wasn’t the physical suffering that Jesus was upset about in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was the rejection he was getting from his Father that bothered him most.”
“He suffered the wrath of God on all sins, you said in your blog,” Sofi commented.
We all turned to look at her.
“Are you reading my blog,” I asked her, a bit surprised.
She just nodded her head and kept eating her food. There was more to her than met the eye. We knew that John had given his heart to the Lord but we weren’t sure where Sofi was at yet. This was a good sign.
“Well, good,” I said. “That’s right. Let’s call it spiritual suffering but without thinking for a minute that it didn’t hurt plenty. Jesus was so concerned that he sweated large drops of blood in his temptation to avoid the cross.”
“Jesus wanted to avoid the cross?” John asked.
“He wanted to avoid the wrath of God,” I clarified. “And, of course he would want to. He loved God with all his heart. Why would he want to suffer his wrath.”
“He did it because he loved us,” Sofi offered.
“Actually, he did it because he loved God,” I said. “The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave his son. But Jesus did it because he loved his Father and made the decision to trust him and obey him even if he was asked to do something that he hated so much.”
“That is the best way to love God,” my wife ventured. “Doing things his way even when we don’t want to. Trusting him even with our lives.”
Everyone was silent for a long moment. John seemed a bit perplexed and I was wondering what was bothering him. So I asked him what was wrong.
“Well,” John said. “This Easter stuff is really getting to me. That and your blog.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s all getting a bit too serious for me.”
He was quiet. I let him think it out for a moment.
“This all started out as something to do to keep Sofi’s parents happy,” he said. “They wanted me to become Catholic but I chose to come to your Alpha Course instead.” He paused. “I wanted to honor my parent’s protestant roots or something. I don’t know.”
“Well, it isn’t just about religion anymore.” He looked at me sharply. “You kind of raised the stakes a bit, a lot. Now it’s about suffering and dying and becoming living sacrifices.”
“You read my blog from yesterday?”
“Yes, and it bothered me a lot.”
“I’m not sure that I signed up for all this.” His eyes looked haunted. “Can’t I just be a good guy and marry Sofi and have children and live life like everyone else?”
“No,” I said. “No, you can’t.” My wife looked at me sharply. I just ignored her.
John sat there thinking. Sofi didn’t say a word. Finally John spoke.
“Well, I guess I can’t back out now.”
“Why not?” I asked.
He looked up at me sheepishly. “I told the Pastor that I wanted to be baptized on Resurrection Sunday.”
“I’m sure he’ll understand,” I said.
John looked down at his plate. After a moment I noticed tears falling on his unfinished food. I reached over and put my hand on his shoulder. He lifted his head, unashamed of his tears.
“I just don’t know if I can do all this stuff,” he said. “It’s a bit much.”
“Well, let me assure you that you absolutely cannot do all this stuff,” I said, smiling. “You will need help. Help from God, help from us and the church. You can’t do it on your own and you’re not expected to.”
“That helps a bit, I guess.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said. I didn’t wait for him to answer. “Are you willing to die for Sofi?”
Sofi looked up at me and then over at John.
“Of course,” John said, without hesitation. “But I don’t really expect it to happen.”
“But if a situation comes up, would you be willing?” I insisted.
“Yes, of course.”
“And I would die for him,” Sofi added. Then she grabbed his hand on top of the table and held on for dear life.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said. “You’re in love, after all, and that is the nature of love. Right?”
“Yeah,” John said. “What’s your point?”
“My point is that your attitude, even if it doesn’t actually or literally happen, will affect all aspects of your relationship with each other.”
Both Sofi and John just looked at me.
“Let me put it another way,” I said. “When you stand up in front of everyone in the church on your wedding day, you will exchange vows. You will promise to love and cherish each other for riches or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.”
Sofi and John looked at each other and smiled.
“Well, that’s what love does and that’s what love says. It’s the nature of love to be constant no matter what life throws at you. Sometimes you have money. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you are healthy, sometimes you get sick.”
I looked at both of them and decided to go even deeper.
“Look, John, let me ask you some hard questions,” I said. “Do you think your love for Sofi is sincere?”
“Of course it is.”
“How do you know?”
John looked a bit bewildered. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just know.”
“More than fifty percent of people get divorced these days, even in the church,” I said. “Of the remaining amount, most people stay together for the sake of their kids or from social pressure but they drift apart when they retire or when the kids leave the house.”
“That’s not going to happen to us,” Sofi said fervently.
“Maybe not,” I said. “But it does happen to most people. That’s a fact. Very few people make it to old age with the person they first married.”
“Sofi and I are planning to grow old together,” John said. “I don’t even remotely doubt it.”
“I believe you,” I said. “Most people feel the same way when they first get married.”
“But?” my wife said. Even she didn’t know where I was going with this. Maybe she wanted to know if we were going to make it through to old age. Although we were practically there already.
“But, the truth is that most people don’t last. Most people don’t make it. And do you know why?”
“Tell us already,” John said. He was getting frustrated with this line of questioning. Good. That was the idea.
“Because most people don’t know what you two already know,” I said. “They don’t realize that they are godless people and that wickedness is within them. They don’t realize that love and marriage vows will be eroded by the sinful nature that they have and that they will eventually destroy their own love for each other.”
John’s eyes were wide and his thoughts were racing. I could see it on his face. I kept going.
“Yes, John. This is serious business. The world is full of evil and hurt and divorce and pain. Children are scarred for life when they go through a divorce. Husbands and wives are deeply hurt. The Bible says that God hates divorce and when you’ve gone through one, like I have, you will definitely agree with Him.”
Everyone was quiet. No one said a word. I didn’t want to bring up Sofi’s almost abortion. That was serious business too. But I was sure John knew that.
“Of course this is serious business,” I said. “Do you really want to go through your life like everyone else? Do you really want to be fighting with Sofi and perhaps with your children, sick and tired of the relationship, wanting out, all because you refuse to deal with the sin within you? Do you really think that poverty cannot touch you, or sickness, or evil? Do you really want to get to the end of your days and face death, and sickness and suffering alone? Do you really want to take the chance that your kids are killed in a drunk driving accident and you do not have the support and care of God in your life? Do you really want to be just like everyone else? Numb to the realities of life, living a fantasy that everything is fine when we are a world at war with ourselves and God?” I was breathing heavy. “Not me,” I said with finality. “But you have to make up your own mind.”
“Not me, either,” John said quietly.
“Normal life is overrated,” my wife said smiling. She was trying to get things back to normal. “I wouldn’t trade our life together or with God for anything in the world.”
“I guess if it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth doing,” Sofi said.
“Exactly,” I said. “If love is sincere, then it has to be willing to pay the price. Unfortunately in this life, the price for love is high. Maybe that’s a good thing.”
“Why?” John said.
“Because if the price for love is high, it will make us get serious about things,” I said. “All the best things in life are free…”
“But they cost you everything,” John finished, smiling.
“Aren’t you going to write a blog post tonight about that passage in Romans where it says that love must be sincere?” my wife asked.
“Yes, I am,” I said. “Paul goes through a whole list of things to explain what he means about love being sincere. He talks about relationships mostly and about how serious they are. In fact, he gets downright radical at one point.”
“What do you mean?”
“Paul says things like, don’t repay evil with evil. Sounds good but not very practical. We tend to get mad at people who hurt us and a bit of “tit for tat” is our normal way of thinking. Especially in marriage.”
“Paul says that we need to bless those who persecute us and not curse them. Another thing that is impossible to do without God’s help. People who treat us badly, much less persecute us, are not generally people we want to bless.”
“Doesn’t it say something about giving food to our enemies?” my wife asked.
“It sure does. If your enemy is hungry, feed him: if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Another impossibility. Paul summarizes the whole idea of sincere love from the heart with his final phrase where he says, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
“I’m not sure that I can do that always,” John said. “Even with God’s help.”
“Well,” I said, “If you can’t, your marriage will probably not last.”
“Come on,” my wife said. “That can’t be true.”
I didn’t say anything. I just let them stew on it a bit. Finally John spoke up.
“So what you’re saying is that my love for Sofi must be radically sincere for our marriage to work,” John said.
“And it needs to last a lifetime,” Sofi added, thoughtfully.
“And it needs to be able to handle sickness and poverty and even sin and evil which is in both of you, as well as everything else that life can throw at you,” I added. “Yes, exactly.”
“A normal marriage doesn’t last because sincere love that is strong enough to deal with the real world, doesn’t last,” John said slowly.
“I wish it was different. Everybody believes that their love will last. That they will beat the odds. But they are wrong,” I said.
“So what’s the solution?” John asked.
“To get serious about the problem,” I said.
“And about the solution,” my wife added. She now understood where I was going with this.
“The problem of sin and evil within us which is always at war with love and the solution of the Holy Spirit to change us which is our only defense,” John said. “Ok, I get it.”
“There are people who get to old age with their spouses who are not Christians and there are Christians who don’t even get to first base in their relationships, so it is more than just about being a Christian,” I said. “It is about making your initial, wonderful love into a more mature, sincere love that is able to weather any storm, any problem the world can throw at you.”
“But you can’t do that alone,” my wife added. “You will need God’s help and help from the church.”
“But only if you want to get serious about your relationship with Sofi,” I said. “And with God.”
“Ok, ok, I get the point,” John said, his hands in the air to defend himself. “The first thing we’re going to do is come see this serious movie tonight at the church. What time does it start?”
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I want to get serious about my relationship with you as well. Sometimes all of this talk about pain and suffering scares me, but, like marriage, I know that I want this relationship with you and I will just trust that you will help me through the rough spots. Teach me how to have a mature, sincere love that can handle anything that life can throw at it. In your name I pray. Amen.