Imagine a man pushing an innocent old lady into an oncoming truck. Ouch!
Now picture a different man pushing an innocent old lady out of the way of a speeding truck.
Both stories involve a moving truck. Both men engaged in the same pushy behavior, shoved an innocent elderly lady without her consent. Nevertheless, can you see a difference between these two men?
How would you feel if both imaginary events actually occurred and the next day’s headlines read: “Men Pushing Old Ladies Around on the Rise!”
Sadly, headlines like that are more common than you think.
An uncompromising non-violent pacifist would insist on never ever pushing old ladies, innocent or not, truck or not. Pushing is an act of violent force and therefore always wrong.
On the other hand, an unscrupulous thug would also ignore the context and just push people around, even into danger, innocent or not.
Both responses above fall short of ethical goodness. Why? Because goodness is not about hard laws, rigid formulas, easy excuses or compelling feelings that demand the same one-size-fits-all response in every situation. Ethical goodness is not that easy. Sorry.
Laws and formulas have their place but real goodness must root itself in love. The man who pushes people into danger is not driven by love. The terrorists who hijacked United Flight #93 on 9/11 to turn a plane into a weapon of mass murder were filled with hate. The one who acts (with force if necessary) to protect people from harm is acting in love, much like the heroes who stormed the cockpit of United Flight #93 on 9/11 in order to prevent further mass murder.
Those who do nothing in the face of real need are probably just selfish. Those who remain passive in the face of real evil are moral cowards (I realize that active resistance to evil can also take non-violent forms).
Jesus and the apostles understood the law of love and its moral authority far beyond rigid laws, formulas and “isms.”
- Jesus identified the two greatest commandments as a dual call to love God first and our neighbor as well. Then he said, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
- Peter: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8).
- Paul: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 9:10). Later, he said, “Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
- James: “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (James 2:8).
- John: “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16).
The difference between the man who pushed a lady into danger and the one who pushed her out of danger is obvious. Both acted in a similar manner in an isolated and superficial sense, but one willed the good for her and the other willed her harm.
Beloved reader, I presume you are a person of good will. Good! But remember, the man who willed the good for the lady did not just sit around feeling good about willing the good. He acted in love!
Go and DO likewise.