What will love look like in the future?
Were you ever teased at school? Perhaps it was because you were different? Perhaps it was your physical appearance, your academic ability or lack thereof, your social or family background, or some other aspect of your personality and character. Playground teasing is nearly always about the child doing the teasing and about their own insecurity — needing to put others down to make themselves feel more valued and important. Yet it leaves the taunted children feeling excluded and broken inside. You may have heard the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me!” However, words can really hurt! That is the truth.
Sadly, we carry the deep-seated feelings of insecurity and the resulting prejudice, inequity, and discrimination into adulthood. I am no sociologist but I recognise, even in my own self, that I have an ego ready to go on the rampage and a tendency to put my needs and wants before others. Even at a social or organisational level we have formally recognised our collective sickness, for in our schools, workplaces, and even our churches, we have to put in place and enforce equality and diversity policies. If we did not need them, we would not have them!
Despite recognising the human condition, the direction we are heading appears to be generally positive. We are moving towards being a more inclusive society, and for those of us who identify as Christians, this follows our developing understanding of the very character of God.
Sometimes I am asked why there appears to be a discrepancy between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, and there is a simple explanation. Over time, God has been revealing — and we have been understanding — more and more of God’s character. We humans are literally playing catch-up. As God has worked in and through humanity, when we read the Bible, for example, we read about this interaction through the eyes of humanity over several millennia, and as God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is continually revealing their character it is possible that we know more about the character of God than even Jesus’ first disciples. It is also a salient reminder that no matter how much I think I know about God, or even know God, there is more of God yet to be revealed.
Like our day, the world that Jesus entered was also a world of inequality and injustice — on both a personal and societal level — and there were strict rules, especially for the Jewish people. There were those to whom you could not talk or touch, and with whom you could not socialise. It was a patriarchal society where women held few positions of power and authority and it was an oppressed society under military occupation where those in power had special privilege and status. It was into this mix that Jesus came with a radical inclusivity. Jesus demonstrated what God is like and if we want to know what the character of God is like then we first look at Jesus. For Jesus, there was no-one he would not touch, no-one he would not talk to, and no-one with whom he would not socialise. He treated women as equals; he treated slaves as equals; he treated the lowest-of-the-low with respect and humility, thinking of them as better than himself. He carried this attitude — this quality of character — through his life and, ultimately, to his death. Jesus said, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” and he did just that. He modelled, for us, how we should live and have our being as humans, and yet, even today, we still do not seem to be able to achieve it.
It is difficult to imagine just how countercultural this way of living was two thousand years ago. It is true that many societies have come a long way since Jesus walked the earth, but it is also true that we still have a long way to go. To those who say Christianity is no longer relevant, I ask, in what way is Jesus’ command to ‘love one another’ irrelevant? Not only is it relevant but it is vital. As we learn more about the character of God we are called to practise a radical inclusivity, to let everyone know that they are valued and precious, and that in God’s economy, everyone is equal.
Can you imagine a future where equality and diversity policies are no longer required? That is the future to which God is calling us, with Jesus as our model, and with his Spirit to lead us and guide us. It is not easy to put into practice — to put others first and to think of others as better than ourselves — but as the Anglican Church response reminds us, “With the help of God, we will!”