Monday, March 02, 2009

Let's stop "loving on" people and start loving them

There it is, once again. Someone has used the expression, "we need to love on him." Sorry to be a curmudgeon, but the premodernist hackles in me rise whenever I hear "love on." I get a mental picture of a splatted paintball helmet, or worse. (See above.) That's because I don't take persons to be Leibnizian monads-- metaphysical atoms, or, if you prefer, billiard balls or bb's. (See my entry, "Metaphysics Made Visual")

Of course, for modernists, taking persons to be discrete units is the only way to go. Some Christian modernists fudge, however, when they assume that one discrete unit is capable of relating to another discrete unit in any meaningful way, such as "loving" one another. To do so means that the individual/atom (ατομος/átomos, α-τεμνω, which means uncuttable) must somehow open to bestow something from within itself upon another individual/atom. But if we overlook that little inconsistency, the rest follows nicely: the individual cannot love another individual; only "love on" him.

No wonder the substitutionary model of atonement has been the premiere (and often the only permissible) way to understand Christ's work on the cross, since the Reformation. Penal substitutionists are nothing if not consistent! Because He is fully God, only Christ can "open" Himself and "cover" the individual with His righteousness.

Note that that His righteousness never penetrates to the core, to actually change the individual. If it did, the model would no longer be one of imputing  but of infusion. Infusion requires a different metaphysical understanding of the person, one in which she is not taken to be a discrete, impenetrable individual. On the modernist understanding, His righteousness merely "covers" the person. It is the best picture of "loving on" that we could imagine, but is "loving on" the best (or only) way to understand the power of Christ's blood?

I am not saying that the modernist picture isn't good news; but I am saying that it isn't good enough news. If I am more than a billiard ball dancing according to the laws of cause and effect, if I am instead capable of real relations, and not just accidental ones, then I need a Savior who can not only position me correctly in relation to God and others, but who can also penetrate and transform me.

And if that is what Christ is trying to do in me, shouldn't we imitate Him and not just "love on" others, but try to love them?

Then no longer will we be paintballers, splattered back and front with shots of sentiment, and discharging our affections at others through drive-by encounters. "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

Lord, this Lent, please teach me to treat others as persons and not as things. May your love pierce me, and not just whitewash me. Transform me, so that I might truly love not only my neighbor as myself, but You.


Kim said...

Wowza! Beth, this was awesome!

Erika Haub said...

Great post! I have always disliked that phrase though never thought very deeply about why. The pictures you chose are brilliant!

Rick in Texas said...

If we're going to love people, let's not love ON them but love INTO them/

I mentioned in a sermon on worship this weekend that worship is not something that happens AT us...

Ann said...

This is terrific, I agree! It reminded me of a quote of Mikhail Bakhtin, the literary critic of Dostoevsky, which I posted on my wall (high compliment in my house!):
"The very being of deepest communion. To be means to communicate. Absolute death (non-being) is the state of being unheard, unrecognized, unremembered. To be means to be for another, and through the other, for oneself. A person has no internal sovereignty, he is wholly and always on the boundary; looking inside of himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another." I wonder if clergyman John Donne was more a "prophet" of his times (early 17th cty) than we realized when he wrote: "No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."