The Greatest Threat to Human Life: Forgetting How to Love

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The Greatest Threat

The greatest threat to human life is not disease, nuclear holocaust, environmental change, or social injustice. Those things, as serious as they are, and as great the need is for our attention to them, are still merely symptoms of the greatest threat to human beings. 

If you are a hat-wearing right-wing conservative (and some of you are), the greatest threat to your well-being is not left-wing progressives. If you are a left-wing progressive (and some of you are), the greatest threat to your well-being is not right-wing conservatives.

Rather, the greatest threat to human beings is such a great threat that it causes war, injustice, environmental carelessness, and even spreads disease. The greatest threat to human beings is so great that should we ignore it we will forget our very purpose for being. The greatest threat to human beings threatens Creation itself. It’s not a nuclear holocaust, nor an environmental disaster, but it might as well be if we do not quickly recognize what it is that most deeply threatens the human race today. 

This threat is so tremendous that the great hymn writers write more about it than anything else. Charles Wesley, without mentioning precisely what it is, feared that many have become so drowsy to this threat that they might lose their very soul:

Infinite joy and endless woe
Depend on every breath!
And yet how unconcerned we go
Upon the brink of death.

Waken, O Lord! Our drowsy sense,
To walk this dangerous road;
And if our souls are hurried hence,
May they be found with God! (Works of John Wesley 7.131)

Lest you think the greatest threat to humanity is Hell itself, you would be only half-right, for if we do not awake to our great danger, it will become Hell. 

Our greatest need is not to cure a disease, to win an election, or to be heard. Rather, the greatest threat to being human is that human beings would forget how to love; that we would forget that we are made to love; that all who live in love are God’s.

The Greatest Commandment

Forgetting how to love is the greatest threat because so many of us have forgotten that it is the greatest commandment. 

Just in case you forget how important love is, consider again that Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul; and it is accompanied by a second and equal commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. One should note that every major religion in the world has deciphered some form of the golden rule, but only Christian faith claims that perfect love has become incarnate. Yet it is not by accident that the Creator has built the law of love into nature itself. We are without excuse.

Forgetting how to love is the greatest threat because so many of us have forgotten that it is the greatest commandment. 

Just in case there is any question as to whether love really is the greatest commandment, the Apostle Paul identified three attitudes—we might say these are the attitudes of Heaven—that will endure eternally: faith, hope, and love. Of the three, Paul identified the greatest as love (1 Cor. 13:13).

In addition, the Apostle John cast the wide net that “all who live in love live in God” (1 John 4:16). To this point Charles Wesley wrote the famous line, “All who live in love are Thine.” In another well-known hymn, Wesley penned, “Anticipate your heav’n below and own that love is heaven.”

Just in case you need a third witness, consider what the Apostle Peter said in Acts 10:35: “In every nation anyone who ‘fears’ [the Hebrew idea of fear entails love] God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”

Let there be no doubt that the greatest command is to love God and love one another, and the greatest threat is that we would forget how. How then shall we remember?

The Greatest Love

So far, all I’ve said is quite theoretical, as if to say, “Can’t we all just get along?” But that’s not enough. We must also address the events which lead to forgetting how to love God and others.

There are several reasons why people forget how to love with the greatest love. I can summarize them quickly. Some look at love in the movies where love is passionate and erotic; others follow the political party in power (at any given time) and treat love as patriotism or loyalty; others feel for the oppressed or feel oppressed themselves and search for payment or reparation. Certainly, we would be mistaken to remove any of these—desire, loyalty, restitution—from human love.

Yet if you’ve lived long enough to try love of those kinds, you’ll probably conclude, as the poet William Morris did, that love just “isn’t enough.” And you would be right. While all of those—passion, loyalty, and reparation—are important actions and attitudes of love, they are not the greatest of love. In order to know how to love with the greatest love, we must look at the love with which the Creator God has loved us.

The Apostle John describes the greatest love like this: “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Jesus Christ is the Exemplar of love, and His death on the cross is the epitome of love. It is in His death on the cross that we find why the greatest threat to humanity is our forgetting how to love. Simply put, there are three difficult truths to the greatest love.

Love Hurts

First, love hurts. Yes, that’s right, love hurts. Love suffers long. Love is painful because it costs us something. But this is what makes God’s love so great; rather than being sore toward us, God goes to great lengths of pain to demonstrate His love toward us.

You may remember Bishop Myriel in the epic novel Les Miserables. Jean Valjean has just been released from hard labor in a prison camp and is trying to survive. He finds refuge in the home of Bishop Myriel but steals some silverware. When Valjean is arrested and brought back to the Bishop, the Bishop responds, “My dear brother, you left some of the silverware behind. You must not forget to take all of it.”

Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man. … Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

Our world is suffering because people are turning to cheap love: love without any hurt.

Our world is suffering because people are turning to cheap love: love without any hurt. But there’s something more to the greatest love.

Love Dies for Haters

Second, love dies for haters. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Then Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you; to the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from the one who steals your cloak do not withhold your tunic either” (Luke 6:28).

The greatest love is not afraid to make the greatest sacrifice: life itself. The greatest threat that human beings face is dying for things other than love. Love is the only thing worth dying for.

Jesus said in Luke 6:32, “If you only love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”

Loving and dying for our enemies is not something we naturally do; we kill them. The greatest threat to humanity is that we will forget how to love and, yes, even die for those who hate us.

Of the three difficult truths to the greatest love, the third one is only difficult because it must follow the first two. Once we know how to receive and practice love that hurts and love that dies for those who hate us, this third one comes quite easily. This truth is that the greatest love—that love that suffers and dies for haters—gives life.

Love Gives Life

Third, love gives life. You see, to live in this kind of love is to live in God, and that is eternal life. “The immortality of the soul [the fact that every one of us will be somewhere forever] is something of such vital importance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter” (Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, 190).

It is not the length or brevity of this life that matters. The end of life makes a long life the same as a short one (Augustine, The City of God, 1.11). Rather, it is whether our life is lived in Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.

“By this,” the Apostle says, “is love perfected in us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment….Whoever [loves like the Son] has life” (1 John 4:17).

The greatest threat is that we will forget how to love; the greatest command is that we love God and one another; and the greatest love is love that suffers and dies for those who hate us. It is this kind of love alone that lifts us from death unto life.

This command I leave you, as Christ left His Disciples: “Love one another as Christ has loved you.”

David Fry
Senior Pastor at the Frankfort Bible Holiness Church. PhD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). MDiv in New Testament Theology (Wesley Biblical Seminary).