Love is vertical and horizontal

Published 6:34 am Friday, October 5, 2018


Religion columnist

What would be the most tragic, painful thing you can ever imagine living through? Throughout my years in the ministry the most difficult situations I have ever dealt with are the tragic violent death of someone’s child. People who have to endure this say they can endure anything. The headlines tell of a drug deal gone bad, a drunk driver, or someone caught in the crossfire because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the natural response is pain, anger, hatred, suffering and a desire for revenge. 

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If we can forgive the murderer of our child, that would be the greatest example of love we can see. The message of the cross of Jesus Christ is that kind of love. It is the kind of love that can forgive anything.

First, we look up to heaven, as Jesus did when he hung from the cross. The first thing Jesus said from the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). How could he say that while His murderers stood at the foot of his cross and taunted him? That is an amazing kind of love — the kind of love that can help us forgive others in the most unforgivable situations. 

That kind of love grows out of living the first great commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). That is vertical love between us and God. It is the kind of love that can redeem all situations, no matter how evil they may be.  When we have the vertical love correct, like the beam of the cross of Christ that goes from the ground up to heaven, then we can get the horizontal love right.

The horizontal beam of the cross pulls the arms of the Son of God out with two Roman nails. It is a hideous torture technique the Romans designed to bring a slow, painful death by drowning in one’s own bodily fluids. Jesus’ outstretched arms did not stay on the horizontal beam of the cross because of those two Roman nails. They stayed there because of love. He had the power to come off the cross. He chose not to for us, so our road to eternal salvation would be paved, and the power of love that can forgive all evil would be established.

In his life, Jesus added to the first great commandment this second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39). The stakes are high. Living in this kind of love that can forgive anything is a life and death matter. The apostle John writes in I John 4:20-21, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, who he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa shares a profound story of forgiveness in his book called “The Book of Forgiving.” He tells of a family in a terrible car accident with a drunk and drugged driver. The parents, Dan and Lynn, barely survived, but both their daughters were killed.

After telling their story to their pastor and people closest to them they realized the only way they would ever heal from their loss was to figure out a way to forgive Lisa, the woman driving the car. They began writing letters to Lisa in prison, and she wrote back. Today, when they tell their story publicly, their story includes Lisa’s story. In fact, Lisa, now out of prison, goes with Dan and Lynn when they speak to groups.  Bishop Tutu closes this story with these words, “If it is hard to imagine a forgiveness that allows you to be in a relationship with the person responsible for your children’s deaths, that is understandable. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but that is the miracle of forgiveness.” That is the power of love that is both vertical and horizontal.

Are you having trouble forgiving someone today? How strong is your love for God? Do you love God with everything that you are? How strong is your love for the person you are struggling with? Work on your vertical and horizontal love, and find out the great power of forgiveness.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, visit