Stop Loving People, Part 4

I have delayed in producing this wrap-up of my series “Stop Loving People”, but by provocation have been engendered to go ahead and write it. The provocation is actually three-fold. The first fold of the provocation was the seed planted, which the latter two folds of the provocation caused to germinate. That first instance occurred as I happened upon G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy after years of ignoring it in my Kindle library. Chesterton begins his short book saying, “The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.”[1] Emboldened by Chesterton’s zeal to accept challenges, I received two challenges (the second and third folds of provocation) shortly thereafter. The second fold was from my friend, who in essence said, “You are always pointing out the problem, but rarely giving a solution. Why don’t you write about the solution?” And the third fold is from my wife who essentially said, similarly, “You spend a lot of time in your head. What people want is application to their lives.”[2]

While these are responses directly related to the series “Stop Loving People,” I hope that they are an encouraging follow-up to other writings I’ve done on The Classical Thistle as well.

Solution #1: [3] Love particularly—not generally

God’s love is a particular love. His love is not for an idea like “humanity” or “people,” but instead his love is for particular people—people with particular names, particular pains, particular fears, etc.

Consider Matthew 10.29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

How does Jesus demonstrate the value of a person in this passage? He demonstrates that they have value by indicating that they are known in such a way that their hairs are numbered. What does that mean? It means that they are not part of some nebulous group of “people” but are known individually and particularly.

God’s particular love is evident in what the Reformed tradition calls “Limited Atonement”, and often is referred to now as “Particular Redemption”. Many “Almost-Calvinists” jump ship on this point and may refer to themselves as “4-pointers” (because, of course, there are 5 points of Calvinism). I was once part of that number because I misunderstood the doctrine. I focused on the “limited” part. My goal here is not to make an argument for 5-point Calvinism,[4] but when I realized what the doctrine really meant, I saw the true beauty of it. Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption is the idea that when Christ died on the cross, he does not simply die a generic death for potential adherents, but instead he truly died for particular people. In a very real, specific, and particular way, Christ died for you—not as an idea—but as a real person in space and time.

When God says he loves the “world,” He can do so because he is unlimited. But when we say that we love the “world,” we cannot because we are limited. We are confined simply to love our neighbor. And this is a good thing, as God has not called us to love people but instead to love persons—our neighbor in particular.

Abstraction of “people” leads to non-love. It is easy to love “people” as an idea. “People” don’t tick you off. “People” don’t say stupid stuff. “People” don’t do any of your pet-peeves, and “people” don’t smell…[5]

Anthony Esolen addresses how we have trained our children to believe they love animals in the same abstract way.[6] We take our children to see the animals in the zoo, but these zoo animals are exotic, safe (though we think them dangerous) in their cages, and cost us nothing (but an admission ticket). But when our children return home and see the blue jay in their backyard acting as sentry over the birdhouse—or how the squirrel adapts a concrete world as its own as if it’s never known anything different—these things seem boring—mundane—not noteworthy. Our children have learned to love the idea of animals, while not really loving animals specifically.

In the same way, it is easy to love “people” as an idea without loving a person in particular. In his usual manner, Dostoevsky pries into our souls with this passage from Brothers Karamazov:

“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky in Brothers Karamazoz

And so we find ourselves in this common and shared experience—one in which we love “students” but can’t bear him that sits two rows back by the chalkboard. I challenge you to stop loving “people”, and instead to love particular persons. God, in his sovereign Wisdom has placed particular people in your life for this very purpose.

[1] Chesterton, G. K.. Orthodoxy. Public Domain Books, 1994. Kindle edition, p. 1.

[2] These are paraphrases of course. They were each much more eloquent in their delivery.

[3] I am using the term “solution” as this is the term used by my provocateur.

[4] Here are some Scripture passages if you are interested in further study of God’s Particular Redemption: John 17.1-2; Matt. 1.21; Matt. 20.28; Mark 10.45; Matt. 26.28; Is. 53.11-12; Rev. 13.8; Rev. 5.9; Rev. 1.5-6; Eph. 1.7; Eph. 4.7; Eph. 5.1-2; Eph. 5.25; Heb. 10.12-13; Heb. 13.12; Rom. 1.7; Rom. 4.23-25; Rom. 5.15; Rom. 8.29-34; John 10.15; John 11.50-52; Acts 2.39; Acts 20.28; Heb. 2.10-17; 2 Cor. 4.3; 2 Cor. 8.9; 2 Tim. 2.19; Heb. 5.9; 1 Pet. 1.17-19; 1 Pet. 2.21-25; 1 Pet. 3.18; Ps. 74.2; Gal. 1.3-5; Gal. 2.20; Heb. 9.27-28; 1 Thes. 1.10; 1 Thes. 5.9-10; Titus 2.11-14; 1 Cor. 5.7b; 1 John 4.10; John 13.1b; Is. 44.22.

[5] This is an allusion to the first post in this series:

[6] “One way to neutralize this fascination with the natural world is to cordon it off in parks and zoos, and then to act as if only the parks and zoos were worth seeing. Persuade a child that a giraffe he sees once every couple of years is really impressive, but the wren on the fence post is only a  drab little bird—though he warbles out a love song in the morning, cocking his stubby tail, and is in general one of the bravest and most cheerful of birds. Persuade the child that the Grand Canyon is worth seeing, or Yellowstone National Park, or Mount Rushmore, or the breakers of the ocean on the Florida coast. But ignore the variations of hill and valley, river and pond, bare rock and rich bottom soil, in your own neighborhood. Children should be encouraged to think they have ‘done’ rivers, or bird sanctuaries, or botanical gardens, in the way that weary tourists are proud to have done Belgium.”10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen, pp. 37-38.

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