Because I’m old, when I started college we were still all listening to that hit song by Nazareth titled “Love Hurts.” Since then, I’ve heard a lot of songs about how painful love can be, and come to realize that this is a staple of literary critique of the human condition. It transcends language and culture, and all those old medieval poems we had to learn in college. When I get all theological and start reading the Bible, however, another side shows up for me. Much of God’s love for us is expressed through justice, and there are times when justice can be really painful.
When I used to hang out with attorneys and their clients on a regular basis, I always had a difficult decision to make at prayer time. On the one hand, nice people are generally not seeing a litigator unless their life has been broken in some way, so I needed to pray for the people I was helping. On the other, if you’re someone’s advocate, you take their side and you try to believe in them, but that does not always make you right. So how do you pray for someone to have what they are asking for if they could be wrong? At the end, I had to reconcile this tension by praying that God would see that justice is done.
And justice hurts. We often talk about justice as if it means “God is going to vindicate me and give me what I want,” but what happens if the things we want are unjust? How comfortable are we with Derek Webb’s lyric “In God we trust, even when he fights us for someone else?” As a matter of fact, it hurts! As Amos 5:18-19 says, “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.” Do we really want God’s justice to descend upon us, if this is the case? Of course, if you take that verse in context, it talks about the justice that will be meted out on us based on our care for others. Are we truly ready to face God’s love for all, and the justice that it brings in this case?
Most of us feel like to feel safe and secure in our feelings of personal self-worth and entitlement. For us, God’s love is expressed in a “justice” that includes all the things that we complain about being taken care of and our being proved to be right. But how ready are we for a true justice that might include our having to give up something, or our being proved wrong? How often do we really pray for justice to not happen? I remember talking to my family recently about making pastoral visits to people in the hospital. Often, as I would leave from an intensive care unit, I would be greeted by the sight of a family full of obese people standing around the entrance of a hospital, smoking cigarettes and crying about how God was not there for them, or one of their number would not be sick. My heart would go out to them, as they were clearly hurting, but if you abuse your body for the bulk of your life and it breaks down as a result, is that not justice?
I still think that God’s love is often expressed to us through the working of God’s justice, and I believe that, ultimately, justice will come about. But I know that, sometimes, love hurts.