I returned from Japan last week, beat. It was a whirlwind, high-pressure press tour that left my brain feeling like a bowl of soba noodles.
I thought Japan was grand.A friend and I were talking about the country the other day when he piped up with, "Don't you just love the Japanese people?"
My first reaction was "Yes, very much." But my second reaction has been a little more measured and philosophical.
Today, you get my second reaction.
As I age, more and more I make a distinction between "good will" and "love." It seems more obvious to me that we can never love people we do not know personally. "To Know Him Is to Love Him" is a pop song. The reverse is actually true. "To love him is to know him."
Looking back at my Japan adventure, I think I came back with a certain love for Mrs. Kajikura and Mr. Usui. I was rather put off by a couple of other persons, but I did feel "good will" for the Japanese people in general.
The word "love" only works for interpersonal relationships.
Saying "I love the Japanese, or the Tongans, or the Blue Men of Morocco" sounds a little too much like rock stars standing before crowds and shouting "I love you all madly." It has the opposite effect of love. It actually depersonalizes people.
Showing concern for the welfare of human beings everywhere isn't bad, of course. It just isn't love. It's "good will."
To give this whole thing a biblical spin, the good Samaritan showed "good will" toward a victim and the angels sang "Good will toward men," not "Love to all men."
On the other hand, Jesus said, "Love thy neighbor."
An interesting choice of words, that. He could have said "love all human beings," but he didn't. We're supposed to love the person next to us, the person we know well enough to love. Yes, we should "do good" to those who abuse us. And - get this - we should "love our enemies." In other words, we're expected to show so much interest in the personal lives of our enemies that we come to love them.
On the other hand, expressions about God's love simply show he has a one-on-one relationship not only with everyone, but everything. God so loved the world. Only a god could.
And what's the key for turning good will into love?
It's like magic. Spiritual alchemy. We can't love the world, but we can love the Nelson family, for instance. When we focus on specific individuals, A when we personalize everything, good will turns into love automatically. When we stop trying to show this grand disembodied love for all men and start helping Widow Roberts get that furnace fixed, we begin to feel love.
We should come to love the world. But we have to do it one person at a time.