Yesterday, a Father of congregations spoke words necessary.
He spoke about love, that word which defines the existence of every last one of us: we pursue it breathless, and we rarely discover it because we do not know the meaning of it. And yet we continue to search it down like hunters, staking our survival on it.
And we rarely discover it because we believe that love excludes suffering: love should be stabilizing, or create highs like a drug. But Father spoke about that necessary suffering, that suffering which redeems—that suffering for and with the good of others. He referred to that cross and that side severed.
We pursue love breathless, but to love another person means to suffer with and for them, whether it’s assisting them in daily, menial chores or holding their hand in grief that consumes like fire. And more: It means to suffer with them in the undefined and undefinable darkness, that shadowy limbo, that scourge with no rhyme and no rhythm.
If you love another person, their suffering affects you profoundly—whether it’s thoroughly understandable or apparently senseless. Its source? Negligible. You love, and your heart aches to heal wounds.
If you do not love a suffering person, their suffering repels you. You commit to rationalizing it, or minimizing it, or both: they’re somehow responsible for their own searing agony, or they’re overreacting, or both.
It’s all-too-evident in our public arena: in debates about poverty, we eliminate the suffering person from the equation and replace their true identity with dishonest, often dehumanizing, jabs: “Get a job! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!”
Or: “Deport the illegal aliens!” with no acknowledgment of their reality, that they’re frequently fleeing subhuman living conditions or imminent external threats. They’re suffering.
On an individual level, that attitude all-too-often leaves even more wreckage in its wake.
I once witnessed the characteristic-by-characteristic breakdown of someone who I love, and it concluded with the speculation that the broken-down person had experienced “mental, physical, or sexual abuse.” And yet, no flicker of humanity presented itself, no heart sunk or stomach churned for what would be the incalculable suffering of a fellow human being—just stone-faced last words in the face of crimes which cry out for justice.
But you likely don’t require my example. You witness it daily and you commit it more than you’d like to believe.
If we do not love a person, we must ignore or minimize their suffering. We must dehumanize them, if necessary. It’s the only means by which we can silence our own conscience. And for us Christians, it’s the only means by which we can continue to claim piety.
Except that we can’t.