This blog post started as a reflection on a poem, but it started to get pretty long. I realized I didn’t want to test everyone’s attention span, so I decided to split it up into a series that will attempt to unfold what love means for those who follow Christ.
Christians talk a lot about love. They claim that God loves them.
One early writer says that God has given Christians a new life because God’s love for them was so strong. Elsewhere, he writes that God’s love is so powerful and large that nothing can overcome or overpower it. Nothing is bigger or stronger than it (Eph 2:4-5; Rom 8:38-39).
Another early writer claims that it’s not just Christians that God loves, but the whole world (Jn 3:16). He is even so bold as to claim that God isn’t merely loving—it’s not merely that God has a lot of love to give. Rather, God is love (1 Jn 4:16). What a claim!
Because God is love, Christians are also expected to love. Love one another. Love your enemies. Love God (Mt 5:43-48, 22:37-40) . This is the basement-floor foundation of the Christian life and teaching. Love is the determinate ingredient in all of life. Without it, anything a person does is as good as garbage, no matter how good it seems. With love, however, all you do is eternal (1 Cor 13).
If love is so central to Christianity, then it must be very important to get love right. In fact, as Scripture puts it, whoever does not know love, does not know God, because God is love (1 Jn 4:8). To get God right, we have to get love right. Everything depends on this.
There’s a direction to love. This same writer also wrote this, “We love because God first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). God’s love is the source of human love. It is the font from which all love flows. Only when you drink from God’s love does love fill your being and your life and flow out towards others. Without this, love is impossible.
To reiterate the point: if you are only able to love because God first loved you, then it becomes very important to get God’s love right.
But talking and thinking about it is only part of the picture. It’s an important one, to be sure! We need to speak and think about love to fully know it. Yet, in the end, is love meant to remain on the page? Isn’t love meant to experienced and felt—given and received?
It’s not enough to understand intellectually that you are loved—yes, this is a part of it. But can you reach out your hand to the one you love, knowing full well that they will take it in their own? Can you offer them your cheek, confident in the warmth of their kiss?
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So they say. It’s not enough to understand love, to regurgitate the Bible passages, the theological positions. Instead, can you live, move, and have your being as one loved by God? Indeed, this is the question at the base of Christian faith, of all reality.
Now that I’ve framed the importance of love, next time I want to introduce you to a poem that captures and expresses the character and essence of God’s love better than anything else I’ve read. Perhaps, together, we can learn something from it.