Posted by: rogermitchell | February 24, 2011

true love

Cheryl hits the nail on the head in her last comments on the previous post. As she puts it “I am saying that love and truth go together – love based on dishonesty or denial doesn’t work and isn’t really love anyway. Truth spoken out of anger/rage/bitterness is also not good or effective. But we need to live with both in our hands if we are going to make any model work.”

For me this question of the relationship between love and truth is extremely important. However, I’m not keen on separating them into two things in balance or tension. I would rather aim to define a particular kind of love that always includes truth. Then if we find ourselves in a position of backing off, withdrawing from a situation and so forth, we will know that the root of the decision to do so is still love. This is why I think that loving relationships have to go through rough times, in order for them to be discovered as true, and relationships that have never got to this point tend to have a question mark hanging over them. I believe this to be true of close personal relationships and the wider corporate ones.

This brings me back yet again to John’s story of the footwashing that has been in the background for these last few blogs. As John sees it, this incident takes us to the heart of true love. “Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end.” [Jn 13:1]. I don’t think that John meant the description “his own” as separating his disciples from the rest of the world, but rather as indicating their role in it. We are to love everyone, including our enemies in the same way as he does. So this focuses down uncomfortably on those difficult phases of relationship that occur in friendships and communities, and suggests that our ways of dealing with them need to echo the cross.

The context of Judas’ impending betrayal with which the footwashing is introduced cannot be avoided here [Jn 13:2]. So when Jesus washed Judas’ feet it had big implications, especially if Jesus knew what was going on. The eventual loving exposure of one another’s hearts is the condition of true love, and knowing what to do with hurt and pain and the accompanying emotion is what the cross is ultimately about. God can cope with experiencing the fulness of hell in his heart and body without it ultimately destroying him or contaminating his loving character and influence on the cosmos, and in loving relationship with him so can we. This is what makes the incarnation, cross and resurrection the bedrock of the gospel and the cosmos. It is what true love consists of, and as I understand it, this is the heart of theology. All else is heresy.



  1. Yeah Roger, I’ve been thinking and thinking about this. I agree with your thoughts however, one caveat. We should not suppose what we always know what the true loving action is going to be. We may wash another’s feet but in the end God may release us from the relationship. Yes, stick it out until you know the obedient/loving behaviour but it isn’t always to stay in the relationship – the obvious one here is an abusive relationship. To lovingly reveal another’s heart so that they can seek redemption/forgiveness may mean leaving. The key is to seek God, seek His ways, seek to be loving and then follow where He leads without guilt or fear.

  2. So here’s a few further thoughts. Humans are social critters. In large, dense settlements such as cities we tend to make rules for how we relate to one another, the spatial construction, and the environment. That isn’t so much because we love the law but because rules give us a short cut in terms of brain power for how to behave (our brains love short-cuts). We are socialized to the rules we have collectively (in best case scenario) agreed upon and so behave appropriately within the community. And because we know the rules and they, if all goes well, become part of how we think, then we don’t have to negotiate every relationship on every issue. We are free in terms of time etc. to engage in other activities and forms of socialization.

    Of course there is the issue of what to do with the folks who intentionally or unintentionally (perhaps due to mental illness) do not adhere to the rules. How do we handle those issues? We end up often through some sort of mediation and/or justice system dealing with these folks one on one within a context of rules that tell us how to engage them.

    So when it comes to large communities – and with a world population heading towards 9 billion we will continue, at least for awhile (presuming we do not get a plague that wipes out the population) to live in large, dense aggregates of human habitation. How do we manage all of that? Yes, love is the key but we can’t fall into romanticism. We have to deal with real human behaviours at various scales. Not all relationships can be one on one. Those are my questions when it comes to the Kingdom because I am a pragmatist. It has to work in the real world.


  3. I think I agree with your comment about ‘rules’ as short cuts. But my point is still what lies behind them. So if selfish, dominating, autonmous perpectives are socialised in these rules we are in big trouble. My research indicates that a partnership of church and empire has impregnated Western thought with rules like this. Jesus came to inseminate love at the heart of our thinking and action with his clear new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” His intention and that of his Spirit and his followers is to socialise that. This is our good news and our task as I see it. Let’s make love our first nature on planet earth! This is what the incarnation and the cross is about, and what the resurrection proved.

  4. I think the key is how we structure the relationships that ultimately support the rules we choose to live by. If the rules are imposed from above, create fear and hatred, or simply are oppressive then we have a problem. But there are certainly models of communities who choose collectively to live in certain ways – ways that promote right behaviour towards one another. Things as simple as common courtesy are a means by which a community socializes one another to show relational respect. I found while in Italy that this community socialization of caring for one another is much stronger than in Canada. I suspect part of it is traditional and part of it is that people rub shoulders much more in the dense urban spaces and therefore need verbal respect and acknowledgement to smooth the way. And it is simply much more pleasureable in terms of day to day living.

    I suspect a major problem is when the rules become an entity in and of themselves, disconnected from their origins, especially if those origins were actually about loving one another. Such rules then feel terribly oppressive and must be addressed by the collective. As contexts change so too must our rules though hopefully love remains the basis.

  5. DOn’t really have time to respond properly but like what you said about truth and love not being in tension. Wonder whether it is best to see truth as a constituent part of the manifestation of love. Like John 1 where Word is made flesh and we saw his glory: full of grace and truth. Here, I think grace truth = love. Maybe more thoughts later if I find time.

    • Sorry, should read: grace plus truth equals love.

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