By Levi Secord
If there is a chief faux-virtue today, it is love. No one wants to be against love, especially Christians. After all, God is love. For this reason, appealing to some vague definition of love is a play run on Christians all the time. I cringe more often than not when I hear people talk about love because the word is so malleable it has lost almost all meaning. Francis Schaeffer once commented that he hated hearing people talk about God because the term had such a varied use, that it could mean anything to anyone. For this reason, he spoke about the God who is there. Schaeffer’s sentiment applies perfectly to love in our day, what is it anyway?
In our culture, love is distorted in at least three ways. First, love is reduced to being accepting and affirming. Loving someone means not disagreeing with anything they do. Second, love is equated with being nice. Love means never raising your voice or saying mean things. Third, love replaces what the Bible calls lust. No matter who you want to sleep with, it’s okay because of love, obviously. These views of love ignore the plain teaching of Scripture.
Sadly, many Christians employ such demented thinking about love. It is well past time for Christian leaders to offer a more robust definition of love, but that requires careful interpretation, and who has time for that when Twitter beckons. All these distortions of love deserve a full response, but I will focus on love in the context of our current pandemic.
In response to the coronavirus, evangelical leaders have instructed the masses to “love their neighbors.” How insightful. To my knowledge, the second great command never ceased being a moral imperative. In our confused age, the call for love merely begs the question, “What is love?” It is argued by some Christians that love means acquiescing to loss of freedom and personal rights in order to save lives. Such thinking could be loving, but it hardly tells the whole story.
Here’s my point: love is not just the right thing to do; rather, it is doing the right thing. What our relativistic society misses is that love is inviolably linked to a moral code. It is not some soft, malleable Jell-O that may be anything we want it to be. Love has a moral backbone, and when that morality is violated, it cannot rightly be called love.
Paul makes this point in two successive chapters in Romans. In Romans 12:9 Paul exclaims, “Let love be genuine, abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.” For love to be love, it has to hate evil. It must reject what is opposite the standards of God and embrace the good. Love is inseparable from morality.
Then in Romans 13:8-10, Paul ties love to the unthinkable—the law. He writes:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Loving others means obeying the law of God. As many have observed, the first four commandments address loving God, and the final six address loving others. The two great commands cover all of God’s laws—love God and love neighbor.
Moreover, the laws about loving others represent some of our God-given rights. These rights include the right to life and personal property. In other words, the bare minimum for loving others means not violating their God-given rights. Again, loving others necessitates knowing right from wrong. Paul’s summary is perfect, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”
Applying the biblical concept of love is essential to addressing our current coronavirus terrorism. Loving others starts with recognizing their rights and refusing to violate them. Often, conservatism is accused of being cold and unloving, but nothing could be further from the truth. Protecting personal rights is the very foundation of love. For this reason, the Bill of Rights is one of the most loving legal documents ever written. By protecting individual rights, the government loves its people. When a government becomes destructive to these rights, it is acting out of hatred, not love.
With this pandemic, we are left with competing interests—life and liberty. Christians must seek not to bring undue risk to the lives of others by spreading the virus, but we must also consider the rights of individuals. Love “does no wrong to a neighbor.” In other words, a thief cannot say he loved his victim simply because he did not do more significant harm by murdering him. By robbing him, he violated the whole law of love. Love means respecting all of your neighbor’s rights. Of course, an individual can display love by willingly laying down his rights for the good of others, but a government using coercion to forcefully remove someone’s rights is another story.
Alongside the prohibition against murder is the economic protection that forbids theft. Working to prevent murder and robbery are both acts of love. Working to minimize infections and to minimize the loss of income are both expressions of love. In fact, love dictates that we formulate a plan that both protects life and personal liberties. An approach that is out of balance, to one side or the other, cannot claim to be an act of love.
Moreover, Americans have witnessed the rise of many micro-managing tyrants. These tyrants have declared the cessation of rights, often under the guise of loving our neighbors. While there is certainly a discussion to be had about the priority of different rights, those who maliciously take the freedoms of others, or who give no thought to the economic good of others, are expressing a form of hatred no matter how loud they declare their love.
This self-righteous tyranny is exactly what C.S. Lewis eloquently warned us about:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience (“The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” God in the Dock, 292)
Under the guise of love, much evil has been done throughout history. In the end, such actions will be shown to be some of the most unloving. Unfortunately, many of our overlords are convinced they are acting for our good, and therefore there is no end in sight. The old proverb is correct—the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Christians must love their neighbors, but we must remember that the moral law of God defines love. These laws protect both life and personal liberties. Loving our neighbors is not as simple as submitting to an ever-increasing tyranny in the attempt to limit a projected curve based on incomplete data and faulty assumptions. Love is not just the right thing to do; it is doing what is morally right. On the governmental level, this starts with respecting and protecting the rights of individuals.
Levi J. Secord serves as a pastor at Riverview Baptist Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree. Levi, his wife, and their three boys live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they spend their time slaying dragons.