Love Is Eternal
Robert S. Turner
November 10, 2016
Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb: "Physician, heal yourself.”
On Election Day, I wrote one of these meditations in which I extolled the virtue of taking the long view. Well, I have to admit, since about 10pm Tuesday evening, I have been having a very hard time taking my own advice.
Yesterday was a day of mourning for me. When I woke up and checked the news, just to confirm what had looked inevitable but was not yet official when I went to bed, everything looked bleak. I felt a deep sadness that I lived in a country that could choose someone so unrepentantly vile and, in my opinion, dangerous to be our head of state and commander-in-chief. I felt fear for the people he had vilified so relentlessly throughout his campaign: Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, and women who do not meet his shallow standard of beauty. I felt anger when it occurred to me that as a straight white man I really had nothing to worry about. The injustice of that stuck in my craw, and I said a prayer for all those whose fears and worries are real and legitimate.
My daughter Natalie told me yesterday that a friend of hers in Scranton, a college-age black man, had an encounter with a group of white men in a pickup truck festooned with the Confederate flag. They shouted insults at him, and one of them reportedly said, “Welcome to the new America, n***er!” Let that sink in for a moment.
So yesterday was rough. On my way home from my board meeting with the Ohio Council of Churches, Ani DiFranco’s song “Wish I May” came up on my playlist. Talk about serendipity. Her words exactly mirrored my mood: “Don’t tell me it’s going to be all right; / you can’t sell me on your optimism tonight.”
But the earth continued to rotate, night came, morning came, and now, two days on, I’m looking for ways to take that long view I wrote about Tuesday. It still looks pretty bleak, but I think in time some perspective will emerge.
I have begun thinking, for instance, about the Jesus movement of the first century, which evolved into the early church. For the first three hundred or more years of the church’s existence, Christianity was considered a dangerous cult, and its members who refused to swear the loyalty oath and offer the customary pinch of incense to the Emperor were labeled traitors and seditionists. When tyrants such as Nero or Domitian or Diocletian came along with their red caps and the slogan, “Make Rome Great Again,” it was often the Christians who bore the brunt of their fury. The Roman officials made them the scapegoats for the burning of Rome, for undermining civic morality, and for a variety of other social ills, depending on what political points they needed to score. It was a tough three centuries.
But here’s the thing. During all those years, the greater part of the church took the long view. Sure, there were some deserters who recanted under fear of imprisonment or death, and others who fell away for the myriad reasons people still fall away today. But for the most part, the Christians bore up under the persecution, the mockery, the vilification and ostracism, the death by a thousand cuts that they faced from neighbors and officials alike. They were crucified, burned, flayed, drowned, torn to pieces by wild animals in the arena. They suffered under leaders they had no part in choosing.
And yet they endured. Not just endured, but thrived. Not just thrived, but inspired. When they went to the cross or the stake or the Colosseum with peace in their hearts and forgiveness on their lips, when they maintained their faith in the face of unspeakable torture, when they held to their ideals of nonviolence and loving their enemies even as their children were slaughtered in front of them, they set an example that both shamed and converted their opponents … and eventually toppled an empire.
They took the long view. They said, along with Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). They believed, as Paul also wrote, “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:17–18).
Now is our time to remain faithful. To keep looking for that which cannot be seen. To keep working for what is eternal.
Love is eternal.
Let us remain steadfast in love, and let us follow as love leads us to stand up for justice, to work side-by-side with the marginalized, and to live as the children of light. We will get through this. Not just get through it, but thrive. Not just thrive, but inspire. This is our time. Led by Christ Jesus and accompanied by the Holy Spirit, we will rise to the occasion.