“As I had encountered kindness, I wanted to be kind myself. I wanted to be able to do something, just like others had done for me.”
The Natusme Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends) series follows a boy named Takashi Natsume who has the ability to see youkai (spirits that feature prominently in Japanese folklore). However, those around him find his behavior disturbing as he often appears to be frightened by or talking to no one (since most people cannot see youkai). As a result, he is considered to be a bizarre or “freaky” child. His parents died when he was young so Takashi spent his childhood being passed from home to home. However, this changed when he was taken in by the Fujiwaras. Touko and Shigeru are never really involved in the youkai antics which make up the bulk of the storyline. As a matter of fact, they very much appear to be your average middle-age couple. What makes them exceptional is the love and kindness they show Takashi by making him a part of their family, a fact they constantly remind and assure him of. The Fujiwara’s provide a loving base and foundation that Takashi has never known before and which helped him to, in turn, show kindness to others.
The Apostle John writes the following: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His soon to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11) John makes the bold statement that if we do not love, we do not know God. Why? Because God is love. John goes on to further flesh out this idea by explaining how we have seen the love of God in action, namely: that He sent His only begotten Son to pay the price for our sins that we might be reconciled to Him. Paul puts it this way: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) The love which God shows us is profound in that He loves us for ourselves, not because of ourselves. By this I mean that God’s love is not dependent upon us. God’s love does not come to us because of anything we are, say, or do, but because of who He is. Love is an integral part of God’s character and we cannot know God without knowing His love. To put it in more human terms, returning to the Fujiwaras, love and kindness is so much a part of their characters that we as observers behind the fourth wall, as well as Takashi, don’t know them without knowing that love and kindness.
After making his statement about the love of God, John goes on to say that we ought to love one another. Why? Because God loves us. If God has showered so great a love on us despite our being in rebellion against Him, what excuse are we to give for not loving others, be they our siblings in Christ or not? The same God who speaks to us through John telling us to love one another also tells us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48) Where can such a love come from? John provides us with an answer when he proceeds to write: “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected (made complete) in us. By this we know that we abide in Him , and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:12-16) It is through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to not only partake in this great love, but also share this love with others. Love is one of the spiritual fruits which the Holy Spirit bears in our lives by virtue of His presence. (Galatians 5:22-23) It is also the Spirit who enables us to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. (1 Corinthians 12:3) When the Spirit abides in us and does His work upon our hearts, we cannot help but to love others because love is the fruit of His labors.
John is not the only one who exhorts us to love one another, Christ, when He is eating the last supper with His disciples speaks thusly: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Now here is a remarkable thing: Jesus says that the love we are to have for one another will be a distinguishing mark that we are His disciples. This is because we are not to love as the world loves, but as Jesus loves, as God loves. This unconditional and unwarranted love is an outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s work within us and if we love as Christ loves it shows that we are truly His disciples because it is apparent that we know Him. And if we know Jesus, then we know God because Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus. (John 14:7-11) However, we mustn’t go thinking that this love is something that we can wear as a mask and pretend to be Christians. For if we pursue such a venture it will soon become apparent that our love is just as hollow as a mask as well. We can only fool others for so long and we can never fool God. The love of God is not something that can be replicated or faked which is another reason why it is a distinguishing mark of Christians. While he was still being passed from relative to relative, it was not unusual for Takashi to stumble upon a hushed conversation between his foster family as to how to get rid of him to someone else. This is not the case with the Fujiwaras. There are no whisperings of disapproval or planning behind closed doors as to how to rid themselves of him. As far as they are concerned, he is and will always be part of their family.
Looking at the Fujiwaras’ relationship with Takashi shows us a number of things. First, it serves as a metaphor for the way that God welcomes us with open arms into His family. The effect that their love and kindness has on Takashi, encouraging him to do likewise, serves as a reminder of the way that God’s love kindles and nourishes a flame of love within us. This flame can be used by God, if we allow Him, to light and feed the same flame in others. The Fujiwaras remind us that one being a hero sometimes means choosing to love and to love unconditionally on a daily basis. As Christians, we know that when we do something as seemingly mundane as loving as God loves on a daily basis, it is showing God to others on a daily basis; for God is love.
Food for Thought:
- In what ways is God calling me to love as He loves?
- How might I better cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit on my heart?
- Consider how marvelous it is that God loves us so much as to cause His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and fill us with His love to the point that it overflows from within us.