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In the fourth chapter of the First Epistle General of John, there is a verse that reads (in modern translation): He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
A simple, straightforward phrase, which captures the very essence of Christianity. The last three words, God is love, have become part of our religious register. We take them for granted, yet for logicians they harbour an oxymoron. How can an almighty power rule with love? Power in itself has nothing to do with love. They are, by definition, contradictory notions. When we say that one has power over others, this implies physical superiority and material might.
How can one reconcile love with power? Furthermore, atheists and sceptics would add that the fear of God has not deterred the religious wars that ravaged Europe after the Reformation. The Spanish conquistadors committed crimes of genocidal scale in Central and South America, wiping out the Aztec and the Inca empires. The Inquisition sent thousands of so-called heretics to the pyre after summary trials and excruciating torture. The African slave trade was perpetrated by Christian slave masters. Every period in history bears a heavy cross, right down to the twentieth century with its stigma of the Holocaust and its six million dead. Thinking over these abysmal acts of man against man, brings to mind the words of the Psalmist “Those who hate me without cause outnumber the hairs of my head; many are those who would destroy me ― my enemies for no reason.” (Psalm 69:4)
When Carl Gustav Jung says that none of us stands outside humanity’s black collective shadow, what he means is that we are all guilty for what happens to our fellow men ― a guilt that we ought to bear more on an individual than on a collective level. We are all to blame for letting evil things happen around us, for not protesting in time. During Aktion T4, Hitler’s odious euthanasia program from 1939 to 1941, some 70,000 mentally and physically handicapped Germans were murdered before Bishop von Galen found out, bravely intervened, and put an end to the executions.
Three years later, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg risked life and limb in order to save tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-held Budapest. He took initiative against all protocol rather than duck behind his diplomatic immunity. Hungarian survivors remember him as a soft-spoken humble man who did not promise but acted.
“Love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet it is the humblest imaginable” says Mahatma Gandhi, a non-Christian martyr, in his lifelong struggle for peace. “Peace on earth and good will toward men” advocates the Evangelist. Out of an infinite love for man, God wants to live in every heart. We want Him there when things take a downward turn and affliction hits those we care for. For God is Love.
The shortest prayer offers the deepest solace.
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