The central command of the Christian Faith, from which all else revolves, is to love. In fact, Christianity makes the bold statement that “God is Love” (1 John 4:16). If we want to be like God, we must love. Yet, what does it mean to love another person?
A critical aspect of love is how we view our beloved, such as a spouse, our children, or our close friends. Dietrich von Hildebrand said that when we truly love someone, we give them three “credits:”
When we love someone, we firmly believe in the beauty of that person, even in areas we have not yet discovered. We do not take a critical point of view towards the beloved, but instead believe that they are beautiful in many and various ways. We are convinced that the more we know about the person, the more we will love them.
Whenever one deals with another person, there are events and actions that are open to interpretation. When we love someone, we always assume the highest interpretation, assuming the best, until we have definitive proof that our interpretation is false. We never assume the worst about those we love.
Of course, every person has faults, including those we love. When we discover these faults in a beloved, we mourn and grieve over them, because we feel that they betray the true beauty of that person. We continue to affirm that it is good that our beloved exists, and we desire nothing more than that they overcome their faults.
Anyone who has loved another person can easily see how they have applied these three credits to their beloved. Who assumes the worst about their spouse, or believes that their child is not beautiful, or doesn’t grieve over a close friend’s faults?
But Christ does not just ask us to love our beloved, he commands that we “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44). In other words, we must apply those three “credits” to our enemies. We must believe in the intrinsic beauty of our enemies, assume the highest interpretations of their actions, and grieve over any faults they may have. We do this for our spouses, our children, and our friends. Do we do it for our enemies?