A month ago the Russell Terrier that lives at my house (named appropriately, Turbo) exploded into the yard at 4:30 Sunday morning in hot pursuit of an animal invader that had brazenly appeared on the scene. The animal rushed into a bush beside the house, followed by Turbo, who jumped several feet into the air so as to land right beside the hiding creature. This all happened in a matter of seconds, with each animal going in opposite directions after their “meet and greet.” As Turbo came toward me I noticed her head was wet and dripping. From the smell permeating the air, it became apparent this was no heavy dew but rather a direct shot to the face from the neighborhood skunk. The skunk’s aim was so good, that Turbo was only hit in the head, mouth and ears, with no scent on the chest, body or legs.
I was impressed that Turbo was still breathing, and set out immediately to apply an as yet untested remedy. I heard dog trainers claim how skunk spray can be neutralized by a solution concocted by a chemist, and that it truly works through a chemical reaction that breaks down the skunk oil. It involves mixing together 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, ¼ baking soda with two teaspoons liquid soap, and bathing the dog with the solution. This wash is followed by rinsing the dog with warm water.
Combining the ingredients in a bucket, I came to the ¼ baking soda part. I understand ¼, but ¼ by what standard? My paper directions mentioned nothing (the standard had rubbed off). Was it ¼ a teaspoon OR ¼ a cup OR ¼ a box of baking soda OR ¼ a quart (which is one cup)? I was trying to start a chemical reaction, so the right amount was important. Too much might actually hurt my dog. Long story short, I ran inside and looked up the answer online. The important missing standard was a cup. By adding ¼ a cup of baking soda, Turbo was cleansed enough of the skunk smell that she was back in the house in an hour.
The ¼ illustrates an important point in our Christian walk. The standard matters for things to turn out good and right. For instance, most everyone in our society would affirm that we should love one another. A common mantra revived from the ‘60s can be heard again: “All you need is love.” And who would dispute that love makes all the difference? Yet this is assuming we all agree on what love is. But today love can mean many things to many people. Love is so commonly flung about in conversation that it is easily like the “¼” without a standard of measurement. It begs for context and definition. While most everyone commends love as essential for human relations, it is becoming a mark of wisdom to be aware that our neighbor might not understand love that way we do. Below are some real life “loves” I have recently heard or overheard. What does love mean:
1) “I love you man, so ante up and buy another round for your broke friend” (who just can’t stop being an alcoholic). (This is love which is enabling)
2) “If you love me, you’ll give me money for rent even though I will likely spend the money playing around, but this will help you feel like you’re making a difference in my life” (Love as manipulation and enabling; codependency “luv”)
3) “Since love means ‘never having to say you’re sorry,’ I know you’ll get over how I hurt you,” (Love as power and control)
4) “If you were a real Christian you would not dare object to your unmarried daughter and her new lover staying in the same room at your house.” (love as fearful indulgence)
5) “We love each other, but are just friends” (Platonic love without lust)
6) “Since you love me, neighbor, I know you’ll give me and my family half of what you own so life is fair and you can be absolved from guilt in having too much,” (utopian distributionism as somehow universal love by sharing corrupting “filthy lucre” with others who will miraculously not be corrupted by it as part of a program of trying to create the kingdom of God by government coercion of forced generosity).
7) “Give me all your loving …” ZZ Top rock band love (love equals lust)
When hearing the above, one might rightly say that few of these really are love. However, they are what passes for love every day and often in our present era. No wonder British singer David Bowie said in a hit song, “Modern love terrifies me…” We are able to say the above (excepting #5 as phileo—friendship love) fall short of love because we have a standard measure of what love is. We rightly look to the Bible and the life of Jesus. Yet, given our human way of twisting things, we are experts at diluting and remixing even the Christian view of love. We must constantly renew our understanding of love as we are transformed into the image of God in Christ.
Jesus calls us to “love each other as he loved us” (John 13:34). He is the standard; his way of loving is the measurement. He shows us the priorities of love: First to love God, second to love neighbor as self. He reveals the intensities of love: Love God with all one’s being: heart—soul—mind—strength, and your neighbor as if they were yourself (or as you love yourself). He demands we go beyond the “natural love” of those who love us as we are called to love even our enemies. Jesus unpacks in living color the neighbor love of Leviticus 19:17-18 as he shows confrontation and rebuke as well as forgiveness as aspects of love in our lives.
We are saved by love. This is true in our family life and true as deep as we can go in the cosmos. The love of the triune Infinite-Personal God grounds all love, for God is love (1 John 4:8). Although there are times we may not even be able to spell out what love means, we are able to love “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Yet everyone knows something true and positive about love, and it is this love that helps us recognize and appreciate the heightened, intensified and transformed version that is the love of God, who is love’s full origin and measure. Since love can mean so many things to so many people, it becomes necessary for even us to put love in the context of its true measure—Jesus, whose love in turn is only fully understood in the context of the entire range of Scripture, the Hebrew Scriptures before and the apostolic writings afterward.
“May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ,” (2 Thessalonians 3:4). May you “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). Lance H