Part 2 – Love, Suffering and Other Scary Words

[PART 1 can be found here]

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17

“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God…. When they hurled their insults at [Jesus], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:21, 23

The centrality of love in the thought and efforts of Gandhi is one of the reasons he moved from using the term “passive resistance” to satyagraha, which is “the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence” (p. 41; all quotes from Gandhi & Jesus).  Gandhi stated emphatically that “there is no scope for love in passive resistance…passive resistance is often looked upon as a preparation for the use of force…in passive resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party…. [W]e postulate the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person” (p. 34).

In Gandhi’s statement on suffering, we notice the seeds of Martin Luther King Jr’s later words:

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.” (http://www.salsa.net/peace/conv/8weekconv4-2.html)

Love was also central to Gandhi because perseverance in nonviolence requires it. He wrote that faith in nonviolence “is impossible without a living faith in God. A non-violent man can do nothing save by the power and grace of God. Without it he won’t have the courage to die without anger, without fear and without retaliation. Such courage comes from the belief that God sits in the hearts of all and that there should be no fear in the presence of God” (pp. 49-50). We see a similar connection between love and fear in the Bible: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Although love was clearly important to Gandhi, he often used the terms ahimsa and nonviolence rather than love. He explains, “Ahimsa means ‘love’ in the Pauline sense, and yet something more than the ‘love’ defined by St. Paul, although I know St. Paul’s beautiful definition is good enough for all practical purposes. Ahimsa includes the whole creation, and not only human. Besides, love in the English language has other connotations too, and so I was compelled to use the negative word” (p. 59). Rynne adds that “love” is generally “used in a setting where there is no conflict, where one is attracted to another, or when one is beneficently reaching out to another out of one’s fullness. The term ahimsa, on the other hand, underlines that the setting for the satyagrahi’s work is one of conflict, not neutrality or noblese oblige” (p. 59).

From this description we see that ahimsa is quite consistent with Jesus’ teachings to agape one’s enemies, a word for “love” that has strong hues of self-sacrifice. As noted in Part 1, Jesus’ use of agape had Gandhi’s broad meaning in mind—this love for friend and enemies was characterized by mercy, service and nonviolence.

I see much overlap between how Jesus used agape and how Gandhi used ahimsa, since both Jesus and Gandhi used the words in reference to friends and foes and in relation to other teachings on compassion, mercy and self-sacrifice. For Gandhi there were four nested teachings: “resisting oppression assertively (agraha) through nonviolent, loving action (ahimsa) to find the living truth in the situation (satya), a truth that is discovered and authenticated through self-suffering (tapasya), a truth that transforms the situation and brings opponents together” (p. 68).

Finally, Gandhi’s response to Jesus’ teachings reveals the inner congruence. Rynne explains that the “connotation of ahimsa, as the positive, surprising response to hate, is why Gandhi found the Sermon on the Mount so compelling and so accurately communicating what he was trying to get across” (p. 59). Gandhi described his emotional response to reading Jesus sermon—“I was simply overjoyed” (p. 23).

May the Spirit move me to respond lovingly and creatively in the face of hatred, oppression and violence.

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