What Loving the Unlovable Looks Like

You’ve likely never heard of her. She died a recluse in 1933. Having never married and living most of her life deaf and bedridden by a spinal problem, her name threatened to fall through the cracks of history. That would have been a shame because she single-handedly changed the course of American history.

Her name is Julia Sand.

The world was unaware of her name and her profound influence until a stack of twenty-three papers were uncovered in 1958. Encased in those letters were words that changed a would-be president.

The Deplorable Arthur

In 1881 President James A. Garfield was on his death-bed, having been the victim of not only a deranged lunatic but also an arrogant and ignorant doctor. He’d be dead by September of 1881 and a man most unsuited for the job, Chester A. Arthur, would take over as president of the nation.

When you think of everything you hate about politics let the mustachioed face of Chester Arthur come across your mind’s eye. He embodied everything that is wrong with politics. He was but a puppet in the hands of a powerful political machine in his day.  He was the least qualified of all vice-presidents.

As the nation grieved the loss of Garfield they also feared what an Arthur presidency would mean. In fact some were even accusing Arthur’s cohorts (and even Arthur himself) of being responsible for the president’s death. Apart from Garfield’s assassin, Arthur was one of the most hated men in the nation.

In August of 1881, thirty-one year old Julia Sand took up her pen and wrote to Chester Arthur:

“Your kindest opponents say ‘Arthur will try to do right’ – adding gloomily – ‘He won’t succeed though making a man President cannot change him.’…But making a man President can change him! Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life. If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you – but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & brave. Reform! It is not proof of highest goodness never to have done wrong, but it is proof of it, sometimes in ones career, to pause & ponder, to recognize the evil, to recognize the evil, to turn resolutely against it…. Once in awhile there comes a crisis which renders miracles feasible. The great tidal wave of sorrow which has rolled over the country has swept you loose from your old moorings & set you on a mountaintop, alone.”

Her words, here and in the twenty something other letters, must have stuck. Arthur did exactly as Sand counseled him. She believed in Arthur when it seemed nobody else in the entire world did. He set about to reform not only his ways but to continue the reforms that James Garfield had started.

Chester B. Arthur was a changed man and turned into a respectable president.

The Truly Unlovable

It will come as no shock that I am using this illustration to encourage you to be as Julia Sand; namely, believing in someone when nobody else will. The very truths of our theology—that God is powerful and that God redeems—necessitates that we take a posture like Julia Sand towards even the most deplorable of human beings.

What really catches my attention with this story, though, is the type of guy that Chester Arthur was. When I hear things like, “loving the unlovable” I have a certain picture that forms in my mind. It’s the guy that has been typecast as “unlovable” but yet evokes what is likely a Hollywood driven sentimentality in my heart. He’s the homeless guy that is really a fun-loving chap that just needs a second chance. She’s the down and out hooker that is really a great mom backed in a corner and doing whatever she can to provide for her curly-headed little kid.

When I hear things like, “loving the unlovable” I never think about the people that truly are difficult to love. You know,  true state of the art jerks. Men like Chester Arthur.

I never think of the abusive man who makes life a living hell for his children and their mother. I don’t think that loving the unlovable really applies to such victimizers.

It’s not the abrasive and abusive pastor that comes to mind when I think about loving the unlovable. I can firmly entrench him in my Pharisee column and dismiss him. I can remind myself that Jesus had the harshest words for the religious elite, and so cut off all hope of his reform.

It’s not these jerks and bullies who come to my mind when I think of loving the unlovable. When I think of the “unlovable”, what comes to my mind are the harlots, the sexual deviants, the outcasts of society, the demon-possessed, the lepers, you know those guys—the mostly lovable people that have been deemed by society as the unlovable.

It’s not victimizers that come to my mind. It’s the sinners. The tax collectors…

Wait!

Tax collectors.

These are the Chester A. Arthurs. The jerks that are truly easy to hate. The victimizers. The abusers. The cheats. The snakes. The politicians. The guys that use their power to abuse helpless women.

If I’m really going to say, “I want to be like Julia Sand”, then I need to know what I’m saying. I’m saying that I love a man like Chester Arthur and I have the chutzpah and the confidence in Almighty God that I lovingly confront him with gospel hope.

Is this what you mean when you talk about loving the unlovable?