By Cindy Koch –
Perhaps you have loved someone. The relationship was good and fruitful. You felt safe and could talk about anything. You enjoyed spending time with this person, be it your spouse or sister, your father or friend. You were eager to do what was necessary to keep this love aflame. You endured through troubles, hardships, and even a little pain for the sake of your love. But always, in the end, you knew your love would be returned.
But there is a darker side of love that is much harder to talk about. In fact, some people may not recognize this as love at all. Especially in our current culture, where divorce is commonplace, where marriage is feared and avoided, where relationships have moved to a disconnected online platform of good feelings, the ugly side of love has been forgotten. But just because this love is harder, more difficult, even injurious to the person from whom it flows, it is love nonetheless.
It is a love that suffers for her neighbor. It is a love that inspires mocking and scorn. It is a love that may never be returned. It is the ugly side of love who loves a wicked sinner, a horrible disfigurement of one who deserves love. But love she will, as weak as it may seem.
Oh, how enlightened we think we are! To harshly judge this oppressed love as if we knew how to love all the better. Leave him, we say. He doesn’t deserve you. Walk away. Don’t look back. If you’re not happy, maybe it was never love in the first place. And we are appalled when the ugly side of love tries to stake her claim in our unsatisfied relationship. So, we tell her she is not love. She is a monster who only desires oppression. We shame this love and quote liberation passages to make her silent. We have no patience to listen to the ugly side of love.
But she speaks softly, this ugly love, into the dark and evil crowd around her. She shines brightly, this wretched love, beneath the blackness that cannot quite snuff her out. She suffers willingly, this stumbling-block love, at the hand of those whom she lived to love. And we struggle to understand this, we don’t want to admit this, we are certainly afraid to live this, ugly side of love.
It is a love that suffered for His neighbor. It is a love that inspired mocking and scorn. It is a love that may never be returned. It is the ugly side of love who loved a wicked sinner—me and you, him and her—horrible disfigurements of those who deserve love. But love He will, as weak as it may seem.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious gift in the sight of God.
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. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1Pe 2:19-25)
The ugly side of love drips from a tree, stricken, smitten, for you. This suffering ugly love changed our lives forever into eternity. This ugly love is His gift graciously given. And to this you have been called.
Endurance is a gift from God when “you do good and suffer.” This love from Christ Jesus is a gift, even though it is unattractive and unpopular. As our Lord has taught us, from his less than glorious walk on the earth, good gifts from God are messier, more humiliating, and often uglier than we may expect.
And even when we are at our best, when we think we have sacrificed it all to love like our Lord, we continually fail to ever love one another quite like Christ. Abused and beaten, poured out and dried up, he loved you all the way to bloody death for a punishment He did not deserve. He endured the most torturous of love for the sake of his insulting beloved. He twisted the heart of His Almighty Father to love you instead. Undeserved. Wicked sinner. You.
Love is a precious gift from God. But it is not always nice and neat, clean and pretty. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. And in Christ, it can get ugly.