For thousands of years Polaris, or the North Star, has been used as a guidepost and point of reference for navigators and astronomers.
It is famous for holding nearly still in its place while the entire northern sky moves around it. That’s because it’s located nearly at the north celestial pole, the point around which the entire northern sky turns. Hence, Polaris marks the way due north.
While it is not the brightest star in the nighttime sky, it is relatively easy to find since it is bright enough to spot even from the suburbs. In a dark country sky, even when the full moon obscures much of the starry host, Polaris can be found.
That fact has made this star a boon to travelers throughout the Northern Hemisphere, both over land and sea. Finding Polaris means you know the direction north.
At one time in human history, people quite literally depended on the North Star for their lives and livelihood. They could sail the seas and cross the trackless country-sides and deserts without getting lost.
During the days when slavery existed in the United States, the North Star was a beacon of guidance and hope, lighting the way north to the Free States and Canada.
In the midst of the complexities and uncertainties of the world around us, the debates and controversies of doctrine and theology that abound in Christian communities, love is the North Star of Christian faith and life. It is a shining beacon of clarity in the midst of a crowded universe, the very center of the Jesus Worldview.
Like the stars in the northern sky, all of the particularities and nuances of Christian belief and practice orbit around and are oriented by love. In fact, without love everything else we believe and do amounts to nothing with respect to our faith.
Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Texts such as this one, along with many others, point to the centrality of love in the message of good news proclaimed by Jesus. Yet surprisingly, we find a relative lack of engagement with this message in the history of Christian theological reflection concerning Jesus.
Instead, discussions about Jesus have tended to focus on christological questions such as intra-Trinitarian relationships among Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the relationship between the divine and human natures of the person of Christ; and the nature of the atonement.
The shape of this conversation can seem to suggest that the details of Jesus’ life and ministry have little doctrinal significance for the major questions of theology as they have been understood in the classical tradition. With respect to this history, commentators have observed the tendency of theology to be more focused on the didactic structure of the epistles rather than the story structure of the Gospels.
While these traditional theological questions are not unimportant, their overemphasis has had the effect of situating theological discussions in a more abstract context that can often seem to be removed from the day-to-day life of the witnessing community.
In addition, their theoretical nature has often led to divisions in the Christian community that are at odds with the way of life proclaimed by Jesus.
The purpose of theology from the perspective of a Jesus Worldview is not to resolve abstract theological questions but rather to form witnessing communities that participate in the divine mission by living God’s love in the way of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.
God’s abundant, self-sacrificing love for us means that we must love each other as well. Indeed, this is how we know God lives in us. We even read that as we do this, God’s love is perfected in us.
The primacy of this all-encompassing love is underscored by the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-44 that we must love our enemies as well as each other and pray for those who persecute us.
In fact, it has often been said that if you take love for enemy out of Christianity, you effectively “unchristian” the Christian faith.
Truly, love is the center of a Jesus Worldview. It is this center that we will explore in the year ahead.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the January-February 2019 edition of Nurturing Faith Journal. You can learn more about the journal and view the subscription options here.