A theology of caring
Care: (n.) a strong positive emotion of regard and affection;
(v.) to be concerned or solicitous; have thought or regard
(adj.) feeling and exhibiting concern and empathy for others.
Caring. What is it, really?
Sure, we see outward expressions of caring all around us, but what motivates these? What is this thing that pushes us to take others into account, and ultimately drives us to roll up our sleeves and serve in Jesus’ name?
We must first note that ever since the breath of God said “let there be” (Gen. 1:3), existence has been a steady movement of events falling like dominoes to the final victory of every knee bowing before the throne of God (Phil. 2:10). Like crisp autumn leaves being blown in gentle succession as the afternoon’s breeze travels along the length of the branch, so too does this fleeting life dance to the breath of God’s will.
Therefore all movement can be traced back to the Lord (Neh. 9:6; Rev. 4:11). Just as ultimate truth is traced back to the God who is truth, and true love is traced back to the God who is love, so too is the ultimate definition of caring traced back to the God who cares perfectly. Authentic caring is a clean mirror to the image of God. And because we see that he takes humanity into account, even while we consider the sheer vastness of all that he has made, we know that God cares (Ps. 8:3-5).
If he didn’t care then there wouldn’t be a plan, and Christ wouldn’t have fulfilled any prophecies let alone come at all. The autumn breeze would never have hit the first leaf. But the Lord said, “let there be,” because he cared.
Scripture is very blunt about that fact, and then not only instructs us to cast our burdens to him because of the simple truth that he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7), but we’re then given the commission to care for others around us with that same theology of caring that he’s shown us (1 Jn. 4:19-21; Js. 1:27).
Caring and perfect love
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss
We can now build from the foundation that authentic caring comes from God alone. Since then it’s an attribute from God and thus from his image, allowing his care to flow through us is dependent upon our progress in sanctification (Rom. 6:19) and holiness (1 Thess. 4:7-8). This is what John Wesley and Samuel Logan Brengle were getting at in their teachings on perfect love.
To love perfectly is to be the best image of God that we possibly can be while in these flawed bodies of ours. Ultimately, it has very little to do with us and all to do with how much of God we’re allowing to be expressed through us today (Phil. 2:12-13; Eph. 4:15-16). In contrast to this, according to C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, enmity with God and others is grown from the great sin of pride. It is that one foundational sin that so many other sins are nourished within, but whose absence opens the floodgate to living the theology of caring.
Lewis writes, “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.” There’s a reason the theme of selflessness permeates every page of Scripture (Phil. 2:4; Jn. 15:12-14; Gal. 5:14).
Now couple that thought with what Thomas Merton wrote in New Seeds of Contemplation: “As long as we are not purified by the love of God and transformed into him in the union of pure sanctity, we will remain apart from one another, opposed to one another, and union among us will be a precarious and painful thing, full of labor and sorrow and without lasting cohesion.”
Caring and our identity
“Christianity is a social religion; and to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it.” –John Wesley
We in The Salvation Army find our identity in the expression of our care for others grown out of our love for the Lord. Because we know who God is, we know whom we are and what we need to do as we look out into the world from Christ’s vantage point. The quality of our relationship with the Lord is directly connected to our self-perception. We are children of the living God (Rom. 8:16), who alone “do the most good” through his people (Phil. 2:13).
Until we know how Jesus cares for us, our caring for others will always have an element of superficiality to it. Sincerity of outward application spawns from an authenticity of devotion to the heart of Christ (Eph. 3:17-19).
From our personal submission to this identity and to the depths of Christ, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us for the spiritual regeneration of the larger community. We see it in Leviticus (Lev. 19-20, 20:7-8), in the group dynamics of the disciples (Acts 2), and in the future kingdom that awaits us at the close of the age (Rev. 19:6-8).
When all is said and done, a biblical theology of caring will be one that points to the creator and not to the created. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Ethics, “What is of ultimate importance is now no longer that I should become good, or that the condition of the world should be made better by my action, but that the reality of God should show itself everywhere to be the ultimate reality.”