“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I was growing up a new church song was being sung, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” It’s now an old standard – it even made its way into the hymnal. It might be construed as a soft song but it’s not.
“Love” in our popular usage is sweet, sentimental. It’s the stuff of romantic comedies or valentines. But love in the song – and for Christians – calls for strength. Love in the Christian lexicon is more a choice we make than a feeling we succumb to. Love means looking at our neighbor – as well as in the mirror – and seeing the precious image of God, someone God loved enough to die for. Love means being willing to “lay down ones’ life for one’s friends,” in the words of Jesus (Jn 15:13).
The bigger challenge than dying for others, though, is that love means living for others.
It’s bigger challenge because we face it every day. To love means to pour out our own lives for others, putting their welfare on par with our own. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to go the extra mile. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He told us judgment would depend on how we treat the imprisoned, the naked, the sick. He told us to love – wait for it – our enemies – on whose faces we also see the image of God. That’s not soft! It’s strength of love in action; it’s the kind of love the song talks about: walking hand in hand, working side by side, praising God together.
Leading up to this Martin Luther King Day, I’ve been thinking about his words, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I’ve been thinking about the words of Jesus, “Love one another.” And – in the midst of a world, from Tucson to Tunisia, where there is so much need of love – I’ve been thinking about the song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
It is my prayer today that the world and our own communities will indeed know us – by the strong witness of our love.