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Asking the Right Questions

We have to question further than we are.

In Joseph Heller's novel, Catch-22, the hero, Yossarian, undertakes a dangerous and heroic effort to help a fallen comrade. In his spot as the bombardier in a WWII bomber, blasted and torn during a recent raid, Yossarian hears a voice calling, "I'm cold, I'm so cold." He determines it is the tail gunner, and crawls through the fuselage of the craft, now riddled with holes, until he reaches his friend, who is shivering and repeating, "I'm cold. I'm so cold." Yossarian takes off his flak jacket and tucks it around him, but the complaint continues. Not quite sure what to do, he lifts his comrade to himself, to warm him in his embrace, only to discover that his back has been blown away, and he is rapidly bleeding out. The encounter pushes Yossarian over the edge. It never occurred to him to do anything other than to cover his friend, but his friend needed more than that.

In the current turmoil over race, we have asked two critical questions: "How has this happened?" The answer: chronic and widespread individual and systemic racism. Now we are asking, "What can we do?" And people everywhere are rushing to discover courses of action to do something helpful before the lifeblood of the nation oozes away.

But the really important question has not been asked. That's the question, "Why?" Why has this happened? The reason is because we do not love our neighbors as Christ loves us. But this begs a follow-up question, along the same lines: "Why have we not loved our neighbors?"

The answer is that neighbor-love does not come naturally to us. Self-love does, but not neighbor-love. Neighbor love can only be learned in the warm, safe light of love for God, and at the cost of self-denial, sacrifice, and, yes, suffering, and by the teaching and example of trusted shepherds.

But, once again: "Why?" Why have we not learned neighbor-love, especially in the churches of the Lord? And I think the answer is that we are not structured to achieve this kind of love in whatever is passing for our disciple-making formats and venues. We run programs and assume we're making disciples, even though relatively few people participate in our studies, courses, seminars, and the like. We preach sound doctrine, and assume that neighbor-love will follow automatically. But, of course, it does not.

Love for God and neighbor must be learned in the context of loving relationships, mutual edification, sincere accountability, and a willingness to bear crosses. And every believer is called to this, not just those who choose to want a little more out of their faith. Yet this is not what we find in our churches. This is not the thrust of our preaching or teaching. This is why we are not getting disciples who love their neighbors as Christ loves them.

We're in the process of covering our wounded neighbors with whatever quick-fixes come to mind, sincerely wanting to help to make a bad situation better. But the life blood of their dignity, beauty, and vast potential will continue to ebb away until we learn that only by neighbor-love can we heal the wounds of centuries, and neighbor-love is the duty and calling of every follower of Jesus Christ.

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