"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Love You But I Don't Really Like You

I don’t like pickles. It's not that I wish God had never inspired the creation of the pickle; I see their inherent beauty, their appeal. I respect that they are a staple of the hamburgers of many. I just don't care for them. I wonder if I can feel at peace about not caring much for a particular person.

The question was inspired by a recent short video featuring a prominent Evangelical. Though bashing him is not my goal here. I’m simply interested in the difference and interaction between “like” and “love.”

If a friend says something that makes me uncomfortable—perhaps he or she espouses a philosophy that I think is unhealthy or, by my interpretation, wrong—I do not dislike that person. But what if the person not only makes offensive statements, but seems to have a general way of being that I find abrasive, rude, and egotistical; and what if this person has a significant influence over a large number of people? Am I allowed to dislike that person?

If liking people is comparable to how we feel about a particular food, then it seems like yes—disliking someone is a natural thing that requires no repentance. If the flavor and texture of asparagus is displeasing to a person, one might say that he or she simply doesn’t have a taste for it, doesn’t prefer it. One is not required to like asparagus, nor do we question somebody’s character for not liking it (I like asparagus, in case anyone was beginning to question my character).

As a Christian who wants to replicate as best I can the character and spirit of Jesus, is it then inconsistent to dislike certain individuals? And can I “love” someone but not like them?

I was initially (but no longer) surprised to discover that many of the Asian students I’ve worked with in the last couple of years don’t really say “I love you” to family. They feel it is unnecessary, pointless. I often hear, “we show our love through doing things…we don’t need to say it. They know we love them through our actions.”

I don’t think this means Americans don’t give tangible demonstrations of our love to one another. But it does make the phrase “I love you” sound a bit odd to me at times. If love is a feeling, then “I love you” seems appropriate. Isn’t that what we often mean? I feel affection for you? Not, “hey look, I’m currently loving you through this particular action!” It seems either representative of something (like our commitment to those we love) or is something more akin to happiness, which is fleeting.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. I still want to hear my wife say “I love you”…it is affirming, comforting, reassuring to know she feels drawn to me, impressed by me, grateful for me. And I will continue to tell her I love her. But I do wonder if I’ve often depended too heavily on the words and not enough on the demonstration of that love.

The point is that it seems like one might say “you don’t have to like them, but you can love them.” I guess I’m not sure what that means. Or I have one idea of what it could mean, but I’m not sure what people mean when they say it.

Maybe they mean that, despite the rage or repulsion they feel toward an individual, they would show hospitality toward that person, would give them money if needed, maybe would even sacrifice their own safety or well-being or even life for the sake of the other. That seems something like love doesn’t it—being willing to submit one’s own good to the good of another?

Or maybe people don’t know what they mean when they talk about loving people with whom they are not intimate (family/friends). Maybe it’s just a slogan, a meaningless saying people throw out there, thinking they are full of love for everyone when they are really kidding themselves. They feel they’re supposed to love people, so they think they do.

I certainly don’t adore the person who inspired this question. But would I “wash his feet” and act in similar, subservient ways that demonstrate a humble, hospitable, compassionate kind of love toward him? I hope so. I think so.

But should I adore him? If we believe people are generally good, beautiful, holy creatures who are simply broken, hurting, misguided, offensive, or needy people whose actions at times negatively affect others…maybe if we try to see this goodness, we can forgive the ugly parts of them and come to “like” what we see. Is any creation of God really beyond liking?

Or is liking just a matter of taste, and, just as some will never like soccer, some will never like that annoying neighbor or that co-worker or that classmate or whoever.

And I wonder if it’s fair to say there were people Jesus didn’t like. People he just didn’t have a taste for. Perhaps those he watched oppress the poor and vulnerable, the arrogant, the greedy, the violent, who so contradicted in their words and actions everything Jesus was about. I certainly wouldn’t want to hear Jesus tell me he didn’t like me all that much.

Although, perhaps part of why we dislike people is that they feel like a threat to us in some way, to our way of thinking, our way of life, and it’s out of our own insecurity or defensiveness or angst that we feel dislike for others. Maybe disliking people is about our own weakness as people, and not a matter of taste. If so, I’m not sure Jesus ultimately disliked anyone.

Or maybe we dislike what feels unjust or wrong or offensive, like a visceral response to something we don’t enjoy (pickles for me).

So I guess I haven’t yet made up my mind. Perhaps I can dislike something and love it—love in the sense of sacrificial, self-giving love. Maybe I won’t feel love toward something I dislike, but maybe the feeling isn’t that important.

But I wouldn’t want my dislike of someone to be simply an unhealthy reaction, nor be a barrier to giving them a godly sort of love if actually tested in such a situation (e.g., the disliked comes to my house and wants a meal or some company or a listening, open mind).

So maybe some people are like pickles; we shouldn't feel obligated to like them. Or maybe my commitment to love others demands I also “like” people, regardless of the obstacles to such liking.

Maybe I just need to give pickles a chance. Try harder to like them. (Matt gets a sick feeling in his stomach.) Though I'm not so optimistic I ever will.

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