There are many awesome teachings in Christian theology true forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven, just to name a couple. But the one teaching that’s had the biggest impact on my life is this: It is possible to love a person without necessarily liking him or her.
I remember years ago when I first heard Jesus’ command: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I immediately thought to myself, “Are you kidding, Jesus? How can I love people who are total jerks and cause me so much trouble?”
Jesus is God, and therefore all-knowing, but sometimes I wondered if he had lost sight of the fact that during a typical day, I had to deal with so many unlovable bozos.
The problem is that the English word “love” implies affection. We say we love ice cream or puppies or sunsets. We can’t comprehend loving something unless we also are fond of it. And this goes especially for people. So, Jesus’ command to love the people we don’t like seems impossible.
The New Testament was written in Greek, and in Greek there are multiple words that are translated into the English word “love.” The word Jesus used when he said, “Love your enemies,” is the verb form of agape. This is divine love, the kind of love Christ showed toward us when he paid the price for our sins on the cross.
Here is one simple definition of agape love: truly wanting the best for the other person.
Now, imagine this scenario: There’s a guy at work, let’s call him Fred, in the Accounting Department, and Fred is obnoxious and rude. He gossips about people behind their backs, and lies to their faces in person. No one knows why he hasn’t been fired for sexual harassment because of all the lewd things he says. Most co-workers would not shed a tear if something terrible happened to Fred.
Everybody dislikes Fred, including you. But instead of just grumbling about Fred and secretly daydreaming that he gets fired, try this instead: Truly wish the best for Fred. In his case, it means he needs to have a total change of heart, put his faith in God, apologize to those he’s offended and drastically alter his behavior. It is possible to genuinely want the best for Fred without being fond of him. And if you’re able to change your attitude toward Fred and pray that God will bless him, you are following Jesus’ command to love him. And nothing says you have to like him.
Isn’t that liberating?
When I first heard about this concept, I thought of the people I really didn’t care for. It took a while, but I reached a point where I honestly could say that I wanted the best for them. For many of these people, just as with our fictitious Fred, the “best” meant they needed to turn to God, repent for some lousy behavior and start treating people differently in the future. I began to pray that God would bless them.
And you know what? The more I prayed for them, the less I disliked them. Also, the more I prayed for these people, the more I realized that I was not exactly Little Miss Sunshine in the way I treated others.
Liking someone is based on feelings, which we can’t control. But loving someone — true Christian agape love — is an act of the will.
Give this liberating concept a try. It may help you cope with all the Freds in your life. Or better yet, it may help you stop being such a Fred yourself.
BILL DUNN is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.