to love with a fury

“How does Alice feel about it?”
“Well… She knows she doesn’t have a choice.”

Everyone at the table agreed – it didn’t even have to be said – that this was good and right, that when your 15-year-old is losing her struggle with anorexia, she doesn’t have a choice. You don’t ask her whether she wants to get better; you ignore her protests that she’s not hurting anyone else. When you’ve tried everything else already, no one has a choice, you send her away where she doesn’t want to go and you pray she feels your love there, too.

If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be loving her fully. She’s right, she’s only hurting herself, and she may even believer herself happy or something like it. But the formula is simple in the end: the sick need a doctor, so love seeks healing, no compromise.

In the Bible, a recurring metaphor for sin is disease. Sin festers and burrows into its host until she is feeble, helpless, emaciated. She’ll never be whole without a healer. Yet we 21st century enlightened Christians don’t like the word “sin”, we’ll whisper and tiptoe around it or, at best, we’ll only point the scalpel of that label at our own actions – never someone else’s, we’d do anything to avoid black ugly condemnation. 

We do well to be on our guard against the yeast of the Pharisees. But when a fellow follower of Christ rebels in substance abuse, in sexual immorality, in gossip, is it right to let our brothers and sisters continue hurting themselves in the name of a generalized niceness we want to label “love”?

It’s not intolerant to remind someone what it means to follow a Savior they’ve already chosen, any more than it’s intolerant to shine a light in the darkness. But then again, are Christ’s moral imperatives in the Sermon on the Mount so very tolerant themselves? If there is no place for gentle correction of sin, we reduce those commands in all their concrete specificity, all their reality, all their difficult everydayness, to a pale catchall “love” that’s just a feeling of vague goodwill. We ask God to whisper Be Holy, for I Am Holy, embarrassed to think ourselves set apart.

I am a habitual dweller in gray spaces, and yet a believer in right and wrong. “Neither do I condemn you” and “Go and sin no more” cannot be separated, grace is both; holiness and love indeed the same but they are not vague or abstract. They are the purity of thought and screen, the slog of daily prayer, the speaking unfailingly well of others, these things we can’t pretend come naturally; we need each other’s help to pursue them. So holy love is the strong, firm, taking a brother aside – “You are ill” and “I will walk with you into healing”. Because that love does not wait for sin to prove itself destroyer; against the deceiver and accuser we bring truth and remembrance of who we really are. Love sometimes hurts, but it always protects with conviction deep as a marrow transplant.

Because sometimes there’s no choice.

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