As a church we’ve been reflecting a lot recently about the nature and extend of the love of God, and then the other week I caught a snippet of the final of Love Island on ITV2 – it got me thinking…
Many people would understand the concept of a God [if he exists] being loving, and most Christians would declare that Jesus loves us. He died on the cross to redeem creation because of love. Not just out of duty or with reluctance. He saved us because he loved us. We were lost but, compelled by love, Jesus rescued us. Such love!
The beloved apostle John wrote, ‘We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us.’ (1 John 3:16)
He put it most succinctly when he said:
‘God is love…’ (1 John 4:16)
Fair enough, but haven’t we wistfully turned that concept around to declare,
‘Love is God.’?
We’re not the first generation to do this, and we keep doing it. We worship love. Even in the Church we could fall into a subtle trap of exalting the love of God above the God of love. I’m not splitting hairs – there is a warning here…CS Lewis wisely made a distinction in The Four Loves between various human affections and the selfless, self-sacrificing, perfect ‘agapé’ love of God. So much wisdom in this… My attempt at distinction is between ‘love’ and ‘Love’.
Today’s world says (to be more precise,
‘love’ is God,
and our god has become ‘love’ (AKA friendship/lust/desire/attraction/ownership or whatever construct we may mean when we say, I ‘love’ you). By ‘love’ some may mean the insatiable lust-filled infatuation of shows like ‘Love Island’ – the falling-in-love ‘because I like how you make me feel’ kind-of-love. This is fuelled with raw emotion, unabated passion, unverified feelings, reckless, ‘crazy’ love.
The feeling of ‘love’ has become our favoured god. And how fleeting those feelings can be!
By ‘love’ we may even mean the feeling we get from the close, buddy-love we get from friendship and companionship. This is a rich experience in life, for sure, but even honest friendship-love is a mere morsel from the feast of God’s Love. A tiny taste of heaven.
God is by his nature, and in his self-giving actions, Love.
Love says ‘yes’ to the weak, and is strong enough to rescue us and make us strong.
Love says ‘no’ to chaos, and is clear enough to bring order and wisdom.
Love says ‘yes’ to cleaning up our lives, however messed up they are.
Love says ‘no’ to injustice and perversion, and is pure enough to bring dignity and protect it.
Love says ‘yes’ to our future, and ‘no’ to our sin-filled past.
Love says ‘yes’ to lifelong, selfless commitment for the other person’s benefit; love lasts as long as the convenience, the feeling, the extent to which one’s self is fulfilled by continuing with it.
Love says ‘no’ to breaking promises, to incest, to abuse, to selfishness, to manipulation, to usury, to selfish sex, to using another for pleasure.
Love screams ‘no!’ at the unaware pedestrian to save them from the oncoming bus.
A Love that says ‘no’? That might not feel like love, but it is Love.
John the apostle recalls Jesus saying this: ‘Now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.’ (John 13:34) So we should Love each other, in a way that Jesus Loves. His is the standard, the definition.
How so? Jesus accepts a blatant sinner, and then tells her to ‘leave your life of sin’ (John 8:11). That might not feel like love, but it is Love.
He challenges a would-be follower, a rich man deceived by his wealth, telling him to ‘go, sell everything you have and give to the poor’ (Mark 10:21). That might not feel like love, but it is Love.
One of Jesus’ best friends and closest followers tries to dissuade him from following through with the cross and he harshly rebukes Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (Matthew 16:23). This vile expletive doesn’t feel like love. But it is Love.
My simple prayer is that we would come to understand the full quality and extend of the Love of God (with its infinite power to heal and make whole) and not trade that pursuit in for fleeting feelings that come from the god of love.
As John says, ‘this is real Love—not that we loved God [or felt nice about him for a while], but that he Loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.’ [1 John 3:16 capitalisation mine].
May Love, not love, win every time.
- Tim Roberts
(opinions my own)