There is a new cultural apologetic that is fast becoming the go-to argument to ensure affirmation and approval of previously immoral activities. And it is an argument taken straight from the Bible:
Without a doubt, love is the ultimate ethic. We are told that the greatest commandment is to love (Deuteronomy 6), and when asked, Jesus agreed it was the greatest of all commandments (Mark 12).
By now we are all familiar with how homosexuality and gay marriage shifted the entire cultural debate by making it about the affirmation of loving relationships. Two blogs ago I detailed the argument made by pedophiles in favor of pedophilia, namely that it was a “loving” act.
Now enter assisted suicide.
Consider the following headline from National Public Radio: “How a Woman’s Plan to Kill Herself Helped Her Family Grieve.” Now, before we go any further, what is the obvious slant? Her assisted suicide was all about her concern for others, and the feelings of others. It was all about,
The woman featured in the story was diagnosed with Alzheimers. She decided to end her life before it took hold - a “collective experience that [she and her husband] and the people they loved all went through together.” A memorial service, of sorts, was held on the front end.
“It was just so obvious that this is about as good as it gets for a human exit,” her daughter said. “She was surrounded by everyone who loved her, they were telling her how and why they loved her. This was not a bad way to go.”
Two days later her mother went into a bathroom and drank a drug overdose.
Speaking of her mother’s death, her daughter added, “It made it less like a grieving process and less like a sort of horrible thing that had happened, and more like something that made sense and felt right and actually had some joy to it in its own way.”
Let’s bracket off death for a moment, though suffice it to say it should never be sanitized in such a way as being anything less than the evil it is. It is horrible. Alzheimer's is horrible. The fall of humanity and all of creation is horrible.
And, of course, life is not ours to take. Not through the murder of others, or the murder of ourselves. All life is sacred, and we are not the Lord of life – not even our own.
Let’s also bracket off the joy that can come from serving someone, to the end, who has Alzheimer's. I’ve seen this, up close and personal. My father-in-law cared for my wife’s mother to the end through the ravages of this disease, and horrific and trying as it was, there was more beauty in his love and care for her than anything I have ever witnessed. And now, some time after she has passed, if you were to ask him, he wouldn’t trade a day of it.
But let’s do talk about love.
The problem with using the idea of love to affirm homoerotic behavior, to redefine marriage and family, to justify pedophilia or assisted suicide is that it isn’t really “love” that we’re talking about.
At least, not the biblical idea of love.
The Christian idea of love is not simply an emotional state or feeling. It is the turning of a heart away from self and toward another in a way that is filled with empathy and affection, grace and truth, selflessness and sacrifice.
But that’s not all. Any and all such horizontal extensions of love flow from its vertical moorings, which is love for God. That love is described plainly in the great “Shema” passage of the Old Testament (called that because the opening line, “Hear,” is the Hebrew word “shema”).
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4, NIV)
As mentioned above, Jesus used that very text to affirm the greatest commandment for human life. When asked which is the greatest commandment, this was the reply:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV)
Love for others is rooted in love for God. We love God with all of our hearts, souls, mind and strength, and from that, our neighbor. But if we “love” our neighbor in a way that is antithetical to a love for God and His commands, then it is no love we show. Such love is mere sentimentality, adrift from truth, driven by the uncertain and often deceptive waves of emotion. In the end, it is simply whatever we “feel.”
So applaud the new cultural apologetic in that it is talking about love.
But then add to the conversation by defining it.
James Emery White
“How a Woman’s Plan to Kill Herself Helped Her Family Grieve,” Alix Spiegel, National Public Radio, June 23, 2014, read online.
“Religious leaders unite to condemn assisted dying law,” John Bingham, The Telegraph, July 15, 2014, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.