We came across an article that had an interesting idea that we thought we’d turn into a post here. The article was based on a fictional conversation in the book The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky and was written by a professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary. We are pulling out just a portion of the article to present this interesting idea about loving people.
Here, from the article, is the intriguing idea:
During this fictional conversation, Ivan Karamazov makes a great confession which real life folks may not admit as readily but, nevertheless, functionally embody. In short, Ivan confesses to his younger brother Alyosha that he completely understands loving the idea of people in general, but has never really loved actual people in particular.
Before turning to the topic of the problem of evil, the two discuss love, and Ivan Karamazov tells his younger brother, “I never could understand how it’s possible to love one’s neighbors. In my opinion, it is precisely one’s neighbors that one cannot possibly love. Perhaps if they weren’t so nigh.” He says later, “It’s still possible to love one’s neighbor abstractly, and even occasionally from a distance, but hardly ever up close.”
Then the author pointedly draws some application for each of us:
While it may be tempting to scoff at Ivan’s proposal as being simply a silly and ignorant position, take a moment for self-evaluation and see if, while denying the principle of Ivan’s argument, its remnants live within you. For, Ivan is making no mere joke in this conversation; he is sincere. In his own way, Ivan Karamazov feels a genuine love for mankind. In fact, he has even demonstrated this love by bending his intellectual career toward the good of others and often constructs ethical essays for the betterment of his fellow man. However, that is where Ivan’s love reaches its limit—the idea of others.
While Ivan is animated, and even passionate, about love of mankind in general, he finds that as he gains proximity to real flesh-and-blood “neighbors,” tangible love becomes increasingly difficult. The problem with loving people is that people are involved. Often, the command to love our neighbor involves an unavoidable inconvenience. The problem with people is that they take time, energy, money, and even threaten our own well-being. A quick calculation of the situation may lead you to the conclusion that it is simply too costly to get involved in the business of loving your neighbor—your actual neighbor.
What does this idea and challenge make you think about? Can you think of an example in your own life of what it looks like to “love mankind in general” but struggle to get to the nitty-gritty of loving an individual or loving your neighbor? Can you think of a specific example? How can we in the Reformed world be more attentive and aware of the need to love the individual?
In the article, the author closes with Jesus’s example of love that is not in general, but rather for the specific—the specific sins of each of his people. As we look at the pointed questions raised here and examine our love for our neighbor, may we be reminded of the love of our Savior. May we not only be reminded, but also refreshed, that in the gospel Jesus Christ shows us a love that gets into the nitty-gritty of our lives and is a costly love. May we be refreshed in the gospel and encouraged in our desire to love not just mankind, but also our neighbor.