Will Rogers was full of baloney. He is known to have said, "I never met a man I didn't like." Call me cynical, but I find that hard to believe. What about the guy who cut him off in traffic? What about the guy who stole his girl? What about the guy who spread nasty rumors about him on the internet, stole his identity, and sent him harrassing text messages? Okay, maybe those things never happened to Will Rogers. The point is, not everyone is likeable, and if we're good and honest (and we're not), we simply do not like everybody.
Well, that's not very Christlike, you might say, and I would disagree. (And, in keeping with the theme, my disagreeing with you might cause you not to like me. But I disgress.) Did Jesus really like everybody? We know that He was sinless. We know that He showed love to all people (impossible for Him not to show love, since God is love). But did He like all the people He loved? And do we have to?Let's bring this down to an elementary level for just a minute, and consult the ol' Webster's dictionary. Webster defines the words 'like' in this way: 'to be suitable or agreeable to; to feel attraction toward or take pleasure in.' We already know Jesus wasn't in agreement with everybody; that one is simple enough. Did he have an attraction toward all people? Perhaps to some more than to others. This is purely speculation on my part, and if I am way off, God Himself will take it up with me some day when I ask Him about this (and I plan to).
Moving on.The Great Webster defines 'love' simply as: to have affection for. Not a very comprehensive definition, but we know Jesus certainly had an affection for all people (affection meaning 'fond attachment and devotion'). I can think of no more profound demonstration of devotion than to lay down one's life for others. Still, Webster's definition of love leaves me unsatisfied, so let's see what God Himself has to say on the subject.'Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things; believes all things; hopes all things; endures all things.' (I Corinthians 13:4-8). Okay, now that sounds like Jesus to me. It also sounds much harder to do than to simply have affection for people. Affection comes easily to me; patience, not so much. I very often want to insist on my own way. I can be irritable, I'm sure (ask my son). I don't necessarily rejoice in what is wrong, but I certainly don't always rejoice in what is right. And can my love really be expected to endure all things? All things means ALL things. That's a lot of things to endure. Do I really have to?
In a word, yes. Whatever love is, I am called to personify it in the world. Whatever love looks like, it is to be made visible in my life. Loving people is not optional, not up for debate, not an elective course in the school of life. Liking people, though, is a grayer area, and I am pretty grateful for that, because it means I can have opinions. I don't have to become a pleasant but mindless clone. I can be honest with God and with myself and say, 'you know, this person or that person just really hacks me off. They get on my last nerve. If I never see them again, it will be too soon.' But, most likely, God will ensure that I see them again. Being the perfect father that He is, He seems to place those people - those "prickly people" whom I do not like - in my path as many times as it takes for me to learn to love them.
From where I sit, I see a common misconception about love. We tend to think that love is something that we feel. And it certainly can be. Showing love when we feel love for a person comes naturally to many (though not all) of us. But what about when we don't feel it? Love is still possible and, in fact, mandated. No, love is not something you feel; love is something you do, and something you do intentionally. It must be chosen and acted upon. Christ's death upon the cross was a profound act of love. My guess is, He didn't "feel like" giving His life that day, and certainly not in that way. He asked His Father if He would let the cup pass from Him - in other words, "Father, is there any other way?" - and yet the act of love was when He followed that prayer with a famous, world-changing sentiment: Nevertheless. "Nevertheless," Jesus prayed, "Not my will but Yours be done." That, as I see it, is love in action. That is love as choice, rather than love as feeling. And I'm pretty sure it's not the choice I would have made (which is one of many reasons it's good that I am not God).
So, what have we learned here in our little love lesson? We do not have to like people in order to love them. We do not have to feel love in order to demonstrate it. And knowing these things will not make it any easier. Class dismissed. Go in love.