Yesterday afternoon a gentleman from our congregation gave an excellent sermonette that addressed a subject of nearly universal concern, how it is that we are to love people we despise. No matter how friendly we all are, we tend to find that there are people we simply do not get along with. The message, although brief and although it spent a great deal of time talking about two books, adding to my list of books to read, was intensely practical as it addressed openly the need to see others as people and not merely problems, and to show concern even where we do not feel love for them. None of that is precisely rocket science, but it is hard to apply for all of us. Even where we know that we ought to love others, even our enemies, it is hard to act in love, despite our best efforts.
One of the main burdens to showing love towards others is the absence of having feelings for them . This is, no doubt, one of the main reasons why there are so many broken families. If a husband and a wife no longer feel love for each other, but they have warm feelings for someone else, it is hard to remain loyal to a marriage that is clearly troubled. There are many ways that the love can die–sometimes through affairs or abuse, or through being busy and not spending enough time to build up a relationship. Still, all of these are excuses. Our feelings ought not to be the overlord of our behavior, but rather ought to follow our behavior. After all, we are constructed as beings such that if we act in a certain way, our feelings will follow. If we treat someone badly, our feelings will be negative towards them to justify our actions, and if we treat someone well, our feelings for them will change to bolster our own confidence in our own good nature.
Yet all too often we let our feelings run the show, even though we know that they are poor guides to judgment. Our feelings lead us astray all the time, in nearly every area of life. Our feelings are what drive so many of our addictive behaviors, and the results are lamentable and predictable. What is less predictable is how we can rein in our emotions to let them follow actions instead of lead them. What is it in our nature, or in our culture and environment, that spurs us on to make our feelings the judge of how we shall behave? To be sure, our culture is filled with odes to sentiment and emotionalism, with the call to do whatever one feels to be right, to chafe at every restriction of coldly rational strategy or duty or responsibility. And it would be best for all of us if our hearts were in the right place, along with our minds, which can go wrong in their own ways, but often our hearts do lead us astray. Perhaps it is lamentable that this is so, but it is.
Ultimately, we have to reach the point where we can look at love and admit that it is more than a feeling, but a conscious choice made to act in a loving fashion, to be kind, to be thoughtful, and to be considerate, even where our feelings may be immensely hostile to any showing of goodness. It is all too easy to blame other people for our lack of good feelings, and we all–I know this is the case for me–often make it far too easy for other people to hate and despise us. We are all full of a great deal of wickedness and folly that makes it more difficult for others to feel warmly and affectionately for us, and where our folly is not the problem the folly of those we are dealing with is no less destructive to the warm and considerate feelings in their own hearts. Nevertheless, the only hearts we have dominion over are our own–will we rule over them, and teach them through diligent practice to show love even where it is not felt, in the hope that even if we accomplish nothing else from the effort we may at least set a godly example for others to recognize and follow, if they dare?
 See, for example: