Playing Well With Others

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis pictures hell as a lonely, gray town trapped in twilight, where the houses are built at a huge distance from one another, yet people are continually moving farther away from each other. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.

We are not meant to go it alone. We are called to live in community. And it would be a wonderful thing indeed if we could isolate ourselves in a community where we live, work, worship and play and where everyone looks the same, acts the same and agrees on absolutely every issue under the sun. But such a place is a fairy tale.

So we have learn to play well with others–to love our neighbor

In the New Testament, we find three kinds of love discussed—eros, filios and agape.

Eros is that romantic love between two people. It is the love Jacob for Rachel, the love of Ruth for Boaz, the love of David for Micah. The kind of love that makes hearts leap and sparks fly. It is the kind of love that guarantees the continuation of the human race. Being in love with love is a common addiction.

Filios is the love of friends. It is from this word that we get Philadelphia—the city of brotherly love. It is the love of Joseph for his brother Benjamin, the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi, the love of David for Jonathan.  Showing loving kindness or hesed for those who show you hesed is for most of us, instinctive.

And then, there is agape. This is an all-encompassing, unconditional love—like the love of a mother for a child, the love God has for us.  This is a more difficult love. A self-sacrificing love. A forgiving love. A love without limits. This is the love we were born for.

In his book, The Magnificent Defeat, Presbyterian pastor Fredrick Buechner writes:

The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.

The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.

The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.

And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.

Ti voglio bene—I love you in Italian, but what it literally means is I want good for you. That is the kind of love for our enemy that Jesus is talking about.

If the pandemic has taught us anything (and I hope it’s taught us a lot of things), it is that isolation is not our friend. We are a communal people, but the transition back to communal life we’ll not be an easy one. Bridges have been burned. Barriers breached. Hurt and harm inflicted.

And yet, we must learn how to play well with others once again. To love our neighbor.

Remembering that call to love our neighbor is not for the benefit of the neighbor. It is to benefit our own souls. We are not meant to go it alone. That’s simply not how we were created.

Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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