The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Real People Are Hard To Love
At least for a rascal like me. It’s so easy to say I love the world or a major subset of it. But when it gets down to it, I’ve got my hands full loving the people right in front of me.
I am right there with Brother D. Some of the same petty things that disturbed him, disturb me. The brother who picks at his food and the sister who sniffles, the brother who doesn’t clean up his dog’s doo and the sister who speaks in high-pitch- that these little things can annoy me reveals a sin-sick heart. Not to mention the deadlies, like my envy and pride.
If I- sometime difficult, irritating sister- cannot love my sometime difficult, irritating brother – then Houston, we have a problem.
Because how can I love the God I cannot see if I cannot love the realio, trulio people in right in front of me?
Or, to borrow the Beloved Apostle’s words, If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Why am I writing this now?
First, because I need to hear it. I want this chaos to breed clarity. And love. As always, I’m writing first to me.
Second, because I want you to be free from false guilt you might feel for not having a feeling of love for people you don’t know. We cannot love what we do not know.
Third, because our world is being shaken. And when things are shaken we must anchor on truth. Since the murder of George Floyd the world wants change. One thing I know about change- about good, gospel change- is that it happens one sinful heart at a time. Racism and all other forms of selfish, sinful, setting ourselves above others only ends when Christ comes to rule our hearts.
This is not to say we ought to be content with the state of our love. As if we could say, “I’ve loved enough. I’m done.” No way. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Be zealous to love and do good (Titus 2:14, Romans 12:11).
But we can’t let our love for “humanity in general” or our zealous words on social media substitute for patient, kind love for the real people in our lives.
Talk Is Cheap
The course of thy life will speak more for thee than the discourse of thy lips. Puritan George Swinnock wrote those words 400 years ago.
But Apostle John said way before that, Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
We say we love God. We celebrate his love for us. But there is in us irritation and impatience and jealousy and greed and selfishness with respect to the people that God has placed nearest to us.
Brothers and sisters, should we say this gospel contradiction is okay? It’s easy to say, ‘I love God.’ Surely it’s much easier to claim allegiance to a God who I can’t see than to live in self-sacrificing love toward the people that we live the nearest to.Paul Tripp, “Love’s War“
Talk is cheap.
It is so easy to say we love people we don’t know. To hashtag my #love for the world is cheap. But to show patience with a sister who’s annoying me is much more costly. It costs my time and energy.
To forgive a neighbor who mows down my flowers, to rejoice with a sister who gets what I want or forbear a brother whose words wound- those can be harder than loving the world.
God Loves The World
The past two weeks have tapped me dry. In large part, because I have passionate and caring friends and family on “both sides” of these vital issues. I want to love them well.
I’ve searched my heart and sought peace as the Spirit leads. I’ve read uncomfortable words and wept for the heavy burden of sins. I’ve reached out to black brothers, albeit awkwardly, to to express my imperfect love.
But I haven’t loved the world. By grace, and for Christ’s sake, I am trying hard to love my neighbor. The one I met yesterday on the way to the mailbox, the friends I listened to last night, and the three who share this house with me.
It sounds glorious to say I love the world. But I cannot love the world. Only God is big enough and pure enough and loving enough to love the whole wide world.
Let Us Love Our Neighbors
Which is as He intended. Correct me if I’m wrong, but God never called me- called us- to “love the world.” That’s God’s job. Almighty God alone is equal to that task (John 3:16).
In point of fact, we are called not to love the world. (See 1 John 2:15.*) We are called to do something much harder than loving the whole world. We are called to love one another (John 13:34), to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:30-31) and to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). And loving those I see, who hurt or disagree with me, is far harder than loving the world.
So in these days when love-talk for humanity abounds, our challenge is first to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:34-40)
But there is another challenge.
Let us rest in the unfailing love of God who alone can and -Hallelujah!- does love the whole wide world.
We love because he first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:19-21
*In Scripture and in John’s writing, the word world has multiple meanings- from the created physical universe to the people who dwell on earth, to a particular subset of them. This article helps explain. For the purpose of this post, I’m using world in the sense of “all humanity.”