The Other in Your Life: Who This Is and How to Love Them

Recently I was sharing a meal with friends—back porch, iced tea, early summer light—yeahhh. We were having a nice time laughing and sharing, as you do when you brunch.

Then it happened. You know, that moment that makes you cringe: the joke, the comment—maybe naïve or just insensitive—political, religious, or cultural. But the gist is undeniably to malign someone, the other.

We know who the other is.

Fill in the blank as you like, because we each know who this other is. It’s the idiot who voted for Trump or Obama or Bush. It’s the snob who didn’t invite you to their party. It’s the person who disagreed with what you said. Liberals. Republicans. “Women,” he says with a smirk. “Men,” she says, rolling her eyes. Vegans. Christians. Gun advocates. Mormons. Meat-eaters. The skin color that is not yours. The intolerant. “He dresses[talks/walks] like that,” someone will say, leaning in with a low voice, “‘because, you know, he’s probably gay.”

Of course, the person who says these things usually gets all the heat. But let’s be real; we all have our “thing.” We are all afraid of the other. Whatever offends us gets put in the blank, despite our best efforts, even to our own sadness and grief. Sometimes it’s unintentional; our culture primes us with a bias. Our ignorance or sin covers what lingers in our subconscious and sometimes leaks out, to our own bewilderment. Other times we shout it, proud to protest the other. We march. We slur. We hide.

The other is not just them.

Naturally, we find that we are the other, too. We are the brave group who dares and dreams. We are the victims; we are the ones who bleed. It’s the other who killed us. First, they killed us with their words. What this really means is that they killed us in their hearts. Who spoke and who bled? All of us at different times.

Without entering the labyrinth of blame and who did what, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. What is the irreducible unifier in the equation? Our humanity. What’s next? The division between humans into parties. Can we make this personal? There is us and there is them; thus, the distance. What is the solution? The gospel.

By superimposing the panoramic movement of the cross, from incarnation to ascension, from death to life, we see that our equation is just an echoed pattern of our original separation from God in Eden—and that the only solution comes from Christ: move closer.

When Adam sinned against God, and all of humanity in him, how did God respond? Adam had created distance. We followed suit in separation. We made ourselves other—morally, ethically. Our desire for justice in our dealings with others reveals the necessity for justice from a perfect God. He could have given us this justice—it was his right. Yet what did he do? God moved closer to us.

Move closer.

He took on our humanity in the person of Christ. He lived a perfectly righteous life, loving without fault both God and neighbor. He wept for us. He spilled his blood in our place. He freely gave his obedience, the obedience we did not give, in order to remove our separation from God. He made us one, all in him. He called us “beloved” and “friend.” Through the movement of the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension, we see the downward movement of the One who was sinned against, descending to those who were at the lowest point of “sinner” and rising again with the lowermost in his arms.

Shouldn’t we then do the same? How do we do it? By first recognizing the sin in our own hearts first, and then ceasing to demand perfection of the other—seeing them as fellow human beings, fallen as we are. We can become free to give grace, to get closer, to put faces to names, to talk to each other. We’ll find that we are neighbors. We’ll learn to love despite our differences. We’ll remember that we are forgiven, and by God’s grace, we’ll learn to love. 

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