Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love….
— Paul the apostle, Galatians 5:19-22a (NASB)
Many people, even some I know personally who would not call themselves Christian believers, have a favorite Bible passage. But it is doubtful that too many people have passages that include stern, sobering warnings among their favorites. We don’t like that hellfire and brimstone stuff — we much prefer the softer words of comfort, of encouragement, of promises to be fulfilled. Yet oftentimes in Scripture, you cannot get to the comfort and the promises without going through the stern warnings. This place in Paul’s letter to the Galatians is like that. After running through a laundry list of sins of the heart and body that could make anyone squirm, we are warned in no unclear terms that those who practice such sins mustn’t expect to inherit the kingdom of God. Ah, but then comes one of the best, the most hope-filled words we can find in Scripture! I mean of course that wonderful and tiny word, But.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love — up against that laundry list, Paul tells us, we have the fruits of the Spirit, those supernatural manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Since they are fruits of the Spirit, they are not self-generated, instead coming forth by the work of the Holy Spirit — but this does not relieve us of all responsibility, nor give us permission to be passive. We will have more to say on this later, but for now, it’s enough to notice that the very first of the fruits of the Spirit is love, without which the same apostle Paul said in the famous 13th chapter of I Corinthians that he can do nothing, that even his purest and most generous actions profit him nothing. It is the same for us too. Love is the first of the Spirit fruits, and may even be the fruit on which all others depend.
(SPOILER WARNING for Fruits Basket and Clannad — at least potentially!)
It is impossible to give a complete description of love, but we can learn something from seeing it in action, whether in stories or in real life. And in this context I take “love” to mean the desire for the good of another, coupled with the faith that it can somehow be brought into existence, set into motion. Now if you accept as I do that God is more than able to use any means or medium to get messages across to us, then it stands to reason that we might find at least one or two anime characters who seem to exhibit love with particular strength and clarity. In two characters I have written about here recently, Okazaki Tomoya and Honda Tohru, beyond all expectations, love finds itself. For Tomoya, it is the result of his relationship with Nagisa. For Tohru, it is the result of extreme tragedy and hardship — of losing both her parents and being forced to live for a time on her own. Out of this is born a relentless, optimistic love for others that expects nothing in return.
The effects in Tomoya’s life are clear to all who know him personally, and are especially striking considering his own admission that he spent his school days caring for nothing and no one else. Even after the death of his beloved Nagisa, and in no small part encouraged by love shown to him as well, Tomoya eventually picks himself up and begins life again. The tragedies that continue to meet him are well known to those who have seen the entire series of Clannad. Yet according to my “headcanon,” Tomoya’s dying words as he sank into the snow clutching Ushio’s body (for I believe he did die in that world line) were: Worth it. Worth it. Even still, even with all this pain, loving Nagisa was worth it.
Yet as much as I found the story of Okazaki Tomoya enchanting, I have to award him second place amongst anime characters who exhibit love. I must award first place to Honda Tohru’s story in Fruits Basket. Those of you who know the story know that it is about the ever expanding redemptive ripples that spread from one brave high school aged girl, who does nothing except love everyone around her, in spite of her many hardships.
Love is the desire for the good of another. This kind of desire requires us to cooperate with the supernatural help that the Holy Spirit gives us in producing this fruit, because it is natural for humans to look out for themselves. And Honda Tohru is someone who, so we’d be inclined to think, should be particularly entitled to look out for herself. But even after losing first her father and then her mother, and then losing her home when renovations to her grandparents’ house forced them to ask her to live with friends, Tohru didn’t stand around waving her arms and shouting, Hey! Look at me! Someone should take care of ME for once! No, she was determined to make it on her own, in a tent if necessary. But when Sohma Shigure and Yuki offered her a much more comfortable place to stay, it was out of much more than gratitude that she started to care about the Sohma family.
Love not only desires the good of another, but has the faith that it can somehow be brought into existence. One who loves doesn’t sit around wringing his or her hands, “hoping” that something good will happen to the one he or she loves. Tohru’s level of caring for the Sohmas went well beyond cleaning up their house, seeing that they were well fed, and “hoping” for the best. Instead, when she saw the pain in their hearts, and in the heart of every Sohma she met, compassion made her begin to dream of a world in which they could all be happy, freed from the horrible curse. Soon she did more than dream of such a world: she believed fiercely that such a world could really be.
Love also sets this desire and this faith into motion. As little as Tohru thought she could do to bring this about, she became determined to try her best, not knowing the outcome. This was costly. It required getting involved in the lives of all the Sohmas, whether they wished it or not, including even Akito. It required not only effort and inconvenience, but also danger, as we will see in a moment in volume 6 so astonishing that we will need to pull off the road just to stare at it for a while. Love forces back all fear of being inadequate to the task, and trusts that if all we can offer towards the cause of the happiness of the beloved is 1%, God will somehow see to the other 99%.
That is what love looks like, in the real world as well as in the fictional world of Fruits Basket. And love is much more than this, of course. In the story of Honda Tohru, we get a glimpse into how love works. As the first of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, love sets the stage for the rest of this wonderful list of qualities that the Holy Spirit brings about in the cooperative believer’s life.
TWWK will guide us as we journey onward in this series, discovering more about each of the Spirit fruits as we go.