I heard a sermon about the “circles of love” this morning. The Pastor talked about small circles, including family and friends, and larger circles that included our city, then our state, then our country and so on. It sounds good, loving others and expanding that ability for us to love a wider and wider circle of people. Showing our love to others is a worthy goal or endeavor.
He really didn’t go on to explain how that love worked in our lives and expanded into other people’s lives other than in the interest of tolerance. Now, tolerance is a good thing, actually it’s a great thing. Yet, I found myself thinking “is tolerance the beginning of our ability to love or an end to the means?” Or neither? Certainly learning to be tolerant will make it easier to “feel” love for others we might not necessarily love (or tolerate) otherwise. Yet, there must be more to love than merely tolerating others
I can’t consider tolerance without its opposite, intolerance. This morning’s sermon didn’t mention intolerance but if love shows itself only through tolerance then it seems to be more a barrier to bad thoughts and actions than an active voice (a verb if you will) that desires to love no matter whether “the loved” appear unlovable at first appearance or over time.
Love is an easy word to throw around because, after all, “love conquers all.” Would that it did! The good news is that actually, it does. But to do that, it must really be a love that conquers all. It can’t be a feeling of good will or tolerance, or even desire, though desire comes closest of all. Love has to be active, it has to be a verb as well as a noun. Here is why I believe the concept of Christian love, the concept of loving others as we love ourselves, is the strongest, and most accurate conception of a love that can make a difference in our circles both small and great.
Loving others as ourselves is the act of putting them on an equal footing with ourselves. It transcends mere tolerance because it envelopes “the loved” with that love we all want for ourselves. It’s a strong kind of love that isn’t only fighting off its inverse, it’s seeking to be an active participant in the life of those who invoke its name.
To try to sum this all up, a proactive love, one that actively causes us to embrace ourselves and others is much stronger than a passive love whose strength lies in merely showing goodwill by tolerating others. It’s still love but it’s not a love that can overcome our emotional and spiritual weaknesses. It takes an active good to defeat an active evil. This is why one of the names of God is literally Love.