Thursday, February 15, 2007


Reflecting back on my post about love, I'm not completely satisfied with my qualification about the need for healthy boundaries. On the one hand, the world doesn't lack for predatory individuals seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others, but on the other hand setting limits and conditions, no matter how practical, can very easily lead us back to a conditional love that demands conformity to whatever we decree important.

Somewhere in there a balance lies waiting to be found. While it's certainly true that God places no limits on his love, it's also true that such ideals have a way of colliding in unpleasant ways with the realities of the world we mere mortals have to live in.

At the same time, though, to love is to open oneself up to the possibility of being hurt. What really lies in the heart of the scoundrel? Only God knows for sure. What if we hold the key to that individual's redemption?

One of the most commonly cited examples of unconditional love comes from Les Miserables and the story of the priest that Jean Valjean tried to rob. When the police caught Valjean with the silverware he had stolen, the priest could have justly reclaimed his possessions and had Valjean thrown back in prison. Instead, the priest tells the policemen that he gave the (expensive) silverware to Valjean, and chides the thief for forgetting to take the candlesticks.

For all the priest knew, Valjean could have chosen to party away his ill-gotten gains and then go back to a life of crime. That the priest's astounding act of grace transformed Valjean's life was a less than certain outcome, but what would have happened to Valjean (and the many lives he went on to impact) if the priest had sought justice?

It's a challenging question. To be honest, if I'd been in the priest's place I most likely would have left Valjean to face justice for his actions. It's not as though I can bear all of the world's problems on my shoulders, after all. But what if I'm giving up an opportunity to transform somebody's life by refusing to let myself be hurt?

I'm not sure I'm discerning enough to tell the difference. Maybe I'll feel a prompting from God when the opportunity arises - but what if it's not really God's prompting? It wouldn't be the first time somebody misinterpreted their own emotions.

I suppose it's not a dilemma that's easily solved. At the very least, we can allow stories like Les Miserables to inspire us toward greater love. And maybe we will get hurt in the process of trying to love our neighbors. Christ could have avoided dying on a cross, too, but then where would we be?

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