What is the most common reason we have for squishing spiders whenever they show themselves? I propose that it is because they strike us as “icky” or “gross”. They just make our skin crawl. Whatever the reason, we would just as soon step on a spider than look at it.
There are also many people who we would rather step on than look at. Of course, we don’t literally step on these people, but Jesus did say that murder is ultimately a matter of the heart. Therefore, we ought to think in terms of how many people we squish with our thoughts and attitudes. How many people do we regard with the same cold disgust as a spider?
The preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards once used the metaphor of “a spider or other such loathsome insect” when describing how God sees our sinful and rebellious selves. However, even though our sins are revolting to Him, God doesn’t love us any less. Edwards’ full metaphor describes God as holding us, sin and all, in His hand which is the only thing that prevents us from falling into the fires of hell. This image stresses the magnitude of God’s love and grace. The love of God restrains the wrath of God. It is this profound love that we are called to imitate: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) God loves His spiders; therefore we also must love ours.
This most certainly is not an easy task. Fortunately, God is happy and eager to help us with it. He does this by filling us with His love so that we love others not by our own effort or whim, but from the overflow of God’s love within us. We are not passive observers in this work of God. Our role is to receive and cooperate with God. We do this by spending time with Him in prayer, in reading the Scriptures, in worship, etc. putting ourselves in a place that allows Him to do His work on our hearts.
This overflow of love is not something that happens instantly. As with many of God’s works, it takes place gradually over time. We don’t wake up one morning and love the people who grind our gears, but we can wake up one morning and decide to love those people. The difference is that the former represents the fulfillment of the goal and the latter is the start of the pursuit of the goal. The freedom that we have in Christ is what allows us to choose this goal and to pursue it. The work of God’s Spirit within us is the means by which we develop towards this goal. We may begin by not judging others so harshly. Then we may learn to recognize them as fellow sinners who are loved by God. Eventually, by God’s grace, we will reach the point where we truly love our enemies and can see that they, too, are made in the image of God.
Who knows, perhaps after we have learned to love those who we find repulsive we may even learn to see the glory of God in His eight-legged creations as well.