“Risk is right,” or so says John Piper. And David Platt. And my pastor, and a bunch of other people I respect and admire. I’ve heard risk loosely defined as, “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.”
Well, sometimes that word “possibility” is a little misleading…
We take risks all the time (unless we live in a hole somewhere). We consider the “pros” and “cons” of a situation – and what that often really means is: If I do this what could I gain compared to what it will cost me? We are willing to take risks because there is a chance – often a good chance – that it will pay off and bring us great rewards. We take a new job, we move to a different house, we go to grad school, we get married, we start businesses all because the possibility of reward is worth any loss that we might have to face. We risk, because we’ve measured and concluded that there is a reward to be had – here, now. A tangible, definable, measurable reward.
But there is one area of our lives that doesn’t – or really shouldn’t – work that way.
Let me try to explain first by way of example.
When you have a child, an odd (but wonderful) thing happens – to many of us for the first time. We love another being more than we could have ever imagined being capable of loving without that creature being able to return that love – or anything – at all.
Mothers and fathers the world over know this from their experience. If you’re not a parent you will just have to imagine, and trust that what I’m telling you is the truth.
That tiny lump of flesh and bones is precious in your sight despite the blood, the mess, the strange color, and the frantic, self-absorbed screaming coming out of it. You don’t care about any of that. You love that little baby with more than all your heart – your capacity to love swells immeasurably and no matter what, you find yourself full to the brim and overflowing with love for that wee creature.
They make you crazy. They suck your energy dry. They bleed your bank account faster than leeches draw blood. They are relentlessly demanding, and selfish, and hungry, and needy…
Yet, you love them – simply because they are ours.
Now we may derive some joy out of caring for them, and we may build relationships that teach them to love us, too – but that is not why we love them.
And we know that if something were to happen to them – or if something already has – that would forever prevent them from being able to love us in return, we would still love them with all of our hearts – because our love for them was never based on what they could or couldn’t do for us. It’s a one-way street from beginning to end, whether or not they ever love us in return.
Trust me, I’m thrilled beyond measure that every single one of my kids loves me. My heart would be broken and full of a terrible sorrow if they didn’t…
But I would still love my children if they didn’t love me – and so would you.
We feel as if there isn’t a great risk in this kind of one-way love. Pretty much everyone (unless there are unnatural problems involved) loves their kids. We know that the normal course of events is that when we love someone, they love us back.
But what do you do when it isn’t that way? We’re not called to only love our children, are we? What do you do when the risk of loving is terribly high because you know it will be painful and sorrowful and hard no matter what you do when you try to love a neighbor, relative – or even a spouse who doesn’t love you? We want a good return on this love-investment. We want riches and plenty – compound interest on our principle deposits of care and concern. We’ll settle for equal contributions to these transactions but we’re all hoping for dividends instead. Who keeps investing in something that never gives any kind of increase or accumulation in return? It’s just foolish to keep throwing good love, after bad, isn’t it?
Actually…. No. It isn’t.
Loving the unlovely – the selfish, the stubborn, the mean, the angry…. This is exactly what we are called to do. It is exactly what Jesus did. Loving those who insulted, ridiculed, slandered, maligned, persecuted, and even abused him – this is what he did. With compassion he looked at the ones who were crucifying Him and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”!
I know, I know – there are caveats and disclaimers that always need to go in right about here. I don’t have time to go into the differences between lovingly standing against sin and sinfully letting it go (that’s another post someday). But let’s not use the exceptions – the extreme cases of horrifying evil and abusive sin – as excuses to keep the rest of us from doing the hard work of loving the unlovely.
We all have people in our lives who are truly difficult to love – I do, too. We have neighbors, relatives, and family members who are so caught up in their own lives that they seem incapable of empathy, much less selfless love. All hopes of mutually loving relationships have probably vanished long, long ago. But here’s the thing: We have to learn to choose to love them anyway. We have to learn to choose to love them even though there will be little – if anything – given in return. We have to learn to be willing to risk being hurt – again – by them, because we love them because of who Jesus is and what He has done – not them.
“Why?” you ask?…. For the sake of the Gospel. Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:10 both tell us the same thing… God demonstrated and proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners – selfish, mean, hard-hearted beasts – Christ died for us. Did you catch that? He laid down his life for us – you and me – when we were still nasty, biting, ill-tempered sinners. He didn’t love us because we loved him back. He loved us in spite of the fact that we didn’t. As every good father does, he loves us simply because we are His.
What a beautiful portrayal of Christ-like love our journeys can be when others can marvel at the love we give when it looks like this, and know that it comes from a supernatural Source!
What a loud, unmistakable testimony our lives become when we say from our hearts, “Lord – I can’t do this without you! I cannot love this person – I don’t even want to – but I love YOU and I know that is what you want me to do. Help me to be willing to risk the hurt, the pain – all the messiness of this risky, one-way love. Help me, please to love the way that you have loved me,” and he does all that you ask.
The world notices, and when they do we can point them to Jesus when they ask – “HOW do you do it??”
But even if they never do – even if they never notice or ask or admire or appreciate this risky, selfless, one-way love you give, God does. And that is worth far more than we will ever lose in these costly love transactions. Our returns will be a hundred-fold – and that is a promise from God Himself. So you see, this kind of “risky” love isn’t really risky after all. It’s a sure-fire investment given by the One who manages the Books.