The popular contemporary Western conception of “love” is difficult to swallow. People talk of love as though it can only manifest itself in in a smile. C.S. Lewis says it well in The Problem of Pain:
We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.
Most of life indicates that deep love manifests itself in quite the opposite manner. The sight of my mom’s thin upper lip when she found out I was speeding on the highway or her stern glare when she insisted that I study hard was constant reassurance of her love (albeit still unwelcome). She loved me so much that she took the time to ensure I didn’t hurt myself and that I put my gifts to good use. On the other hand, I had childhood friends who were mostly let alone by their parents. They could spend money, date whomever, and stay out late. They were also fairly miserable. The absentee parent produces children who “act out” and “cry for attention.” It is so congenital to the human mind that true love must include some measure of sternness that even young children recognize its absence and take action to try to procure it.
Acting upon love is a hard line to tow. Sometimes Jesus gently said, “Go and sin no more” and sometimes he was upturning tables at the temple. A parent can let discipline become an entity of its own, rather than a manifestation of love. With that in mind, I understand how rancorous struggles over political and social issues come to be. Even with the Bible as a rule, people disagree left and right (quite literally) over the best, most loving course of action in different situations. But I have to think that all arguing will be senseless so long as all parties do not begin with the understanding that benign smiles are often more indicative of contempt than love.