Under what circumstances should you be willing to lay down your life for someone else?
I believe that God is frivolous. His nature as eternally loving leads him to be ever excessive and reckless with His love.
Romans 5:8 has been one of the main culprits in putting this belief in my head.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
This verse presents one of the most remarkable images of grace. Before we have done anything, Christ dies for us. Before we come to faith, Christ dies for us. His love precedes anything we do and is in no way contingent of who we are. His love is abundant and acted upon merely as an end in itself. Simply because He loves human beings (my theologian friends will note that I am somewhat diverting away from an Anselmian view of the atonement, at least in part).
Consider some of the wider implications of His death in terms of such meditations on grace. He died knowing that many would still reject Him. He died knowing that those of us who accept Him would still continue to frivolously waste His love and His grace. He died knowing that we would continue to fail and be unworthy of what we have been given. Even during His death He extends love to His enemies, imploring the Father to forgive those who put Him to death, much less the rest of us.
In making the ultimate sacrifice in spite of these aforementioned circumstances, is His motivation that He believes saving some is a worthwhile reason to give everything? Is it a pragmatic calculation to save some, even if it's just a few? Or is it because He loves to great excess, with no reservation or equivocation, pouring out love for no reason except its own sake? Extending love to all people unreservedly? Pouring out love even on behalf of those who would waste it; wasted by those who will always be in rebellion against Him and those of us who are His but still often squander the gift?
Lately, I have been convinced that it is the latter, and I think there is an important difference.
He is like the father who gave his wayward, selfish, disrespectful, prodigal son an inheritance even before his death. He must have known what a waste this could be. But he gave it anyway, frivolously; without demanding his son's love, nor giving it contingent on the son's obedience. And even when the son was disobedient, squandering the inheritance on complete frivolities, the father welcomed him home with open arms and threw a party. His love knew no limits and was not contingent on anything. He was motivated by nothing other than the love of his son. This moved him to be reckless.
He is also the Messiah who healed 10 lepers knowing that only one would come back.
The other day, a professor told our class a story of an unbelieving man who was healed after believers laid hands on him and prayed. This man never was thankful and amazed by the healing, but never came to Christ - although the believers in his life kept proclaiming the Gospel to him and telling him that it was Christ who had healed him. If we assume God's foreknowledge, why would God heal someone who would never come to faith? Perhaps the man will yet come to faith. And perhaps God had secondary purposes; to glorify Himself in this way. But I believe at the heart, He was simply motivated by His love of this man before and beyond this man doing anything for God. It's one of the mysterious dimensions of God's love that is hard for us to understand in categories we are comfortable with; His frivolous excess of love, that is always gracious and abundant and appears in ways and places that shatter our expectations. It is for this reason: His primary and fundamental motivation is love.
What else should we expect from a God who is a Trinity? Three persons in eternal love and communion? Eternal giving is at the core of His being, as He has been revealed to us. Love as an end in and of itself is His central characteristic, as He has revealed Himself to us. This is not to deny that God's love is sometimes 'tough' and directed toward greater ends than penultimate goods (which we may not always recognize as penultimate). Sometimes our love must likewise be 'tough' and must weigh between different ends. But toughness can never be an excuse for reservation, or an excuse to not place love to the point of complete self-sacrifice as an independent end. An end unto itself.
Will we follow the example of Christ and give ourselves away to those who are still far from Him? Even those who may never come to know Him? Acting as such because we are full of a love that does not depend on whether they are grateful for it and turn to good? A love that depends only on imitating God's frivolous, excessive, infinite love for all? No ulterior motives, no expectation (but yes, hopes) or stipulations? Only concern for the wellbeing of the other? To fall short of this is to fall short of the love of Christ.
We are limited human beings and can never know what may happen in the future. But I believe this key question still gets to the root of our motivation: Would we die for someone with perfect foreknowledge that said person would never come to faith?
Often we speak of righteousness, or 'loving actions,' in terms of being a 'good witness,' as if our witness should be our motivation for righteous deeds. I believe that's ridiculous. If our impetus is to be a witness and not to live full of God's love for its own sake, love itself gets lost. And we fail to be like Christ, and fail to imitate the loving communion of the Trinity. We become something else altogether.
When one's heart is overwhelmed by Love, caring for another becomes its own end. Christ, I believe, shows a love that is love for its own sake.
We, of course, hope and pray and work for the salvation of all, and should never tire of preaching the Gospel to those around us. But we must ask if our love is as frivolous as God's, that we would give and give and give to all whether they respond or not - simply for it's own sake? Should our loving be limited to them responding in the way we ultimately hope and pray that they will? No, because we should love them. Pure and simple.
Christ did nothing less than this, and so should we.
Will you love the Muslim in your neighborhood? Would you embrace them even when the rest of our society is scared of them and are rushing to blame them, in light of the violence we have recently suffered? Would you count a Muslim's life as worth no less than your own? Would you be willing to die for him or her? To suffer discrimination with him or, and stand in the gap for them? Even if they never shows any hint of conversion? What about a poor person? A thief? A mentally ill person? An unborn child? A homosexual? A single woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, perhaps caused by violence? An atheist? A murderer? A dementia patient? Any human being, independent of who they are or what they have done or what you expect they will do deserves that sort of love for no other reason than God Himself has declared it so, both by word and by His own deeds.
This is the insanity of righteousness: it's out of our control. When we try to control it and use it as leverage for other ends (even good ends), righteousness is sacrificed. Love, if it is love, must be consumed with nothing short of the complete fixation on the good of the other, at all times.
Yes, always be prepared to give an answer for the hope you possess. But that command of Paul presupposes that you are living in hope. You are not living in hope so that you might give answer for why - but for its own sake.
And our hope is this: the frivolous love of God that did not hold anything against us or demand anything of us before giving everything to us, simply because He could not contain His love.
That is the paradox: Our greatest witness comes when we have no motivation than love, not even 'witness.'
"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."
-1 Peter 2:21 ESV
If you could know with perfect foreknowledge that a particular non-believer would never come to faith - would you give your life for theirs? I believe we should. Our love should, like God's, be 'wasteful.' When this ethic forms the foundation of our actions, only then can we say with some validity that we are beginning to become like Christ. Indeed, only then will our witness be pure and powerful and will we have any hope of calling the world to follow Christ.
"If you see anyone in affliction, do not be curious to enquire further... [the needy person] is God's, whether he is a heathen or a Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help."
-John Chrysostom (Homily on Hebrews 10.4)
"If a man has no worries about himself at all for the sake of love toward God and the working of good deeds, knowing that God is taking care of him, this is a true and wise hope. . . . A true hope seeks only the Kingdom of God… the heart can have no peace until it obtains such a hope. This hope pacifies the heart and produces joy within it."
- St. Seraphim of Sarov
"God is glorified not by mere words, but by works of righteousness, which proclaim the majesty of God far more effectively than words."
- St. Maximos the Confessor