Tough Love; the Challenge of the Cross

By Garvey, John | Commonweal, November 21, 2008 | Go to article overview

Tough Love; the Challenge of the Cross


Garvey, John, Commonweal


In Christianity, both God's love for us and the love we are to have for one another are linked to the Cross. In his discourse at the Last Supper, Jesus said: "There is no greater love than this, that a man lays his life down for his friends" (John 15:13). But at Gethsemane he prayed to be spared this, and was answered with silence. We pray, "Do not put us to the test," and it is all right for us to ask not to be crucified. But there are times when the answer will be the one Jesus met at Gethsemane: an apparent silence, one that feels like abandonment. C. S. Lewis pointed out somewhere that of all the prayers in the New Testament, this was the only one that was denied.

I am less interested here in what biblical scholarship might have to say about this than I am in what amounts to the story of Jesus. Think of the fact that when Jesus was baptized there was a voice from heaven: "This is my beloved son." When he was transfigured there was a voice from heaven: "This is my beloved son." When Jesus asks the source of that voice for release from the suffering that awaits him, there is no voice from heaven, only silence.

Love in the Christian sense is not a warm feeling, and can even seem at times to be cold (although it never is). Our culture may have a harder time with this than some other cultures do. I read a recent report on the attitudes of young Hindus and Muslims toward arranged marriages. Those who defend such arrangements argue that when love is not based on emotion, it is more likely to be deep and enduring because one enters the union knowing that love is something that must be learned.

In this sense, those of us who are born into Christianity and must learn what it means are like people in arranged marriages. We have to learn, slowly and sometimes painfully, what love really means and how it is connected to the Cross. We sense this instinctively when it comes to love for our children, for example. We can imagine ourselves dying for them (though we would rather not). But to die for our enemies? That does not come naturally to us. Yet love for our enemies is commanded, because it is only love that goes that far that allows us to participate in the sort of love God has for us. …

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