What is this thing called ‘love’?

I know what it’s not.

Love is not blind. Love is not soppy sentimental. Love is not judgmental. Love is not condemning, or inward-looking, or self-satisfied, or envious. Love isn’t jealous or irritable or exasperated. Love isn’t any of the traits and attributes that make up yours truly. That’s a bit of a bummer.

Love isn’t blind.

I said that last bit twice, I know.  Love is not blind. Loving someone is all about knowing them and accepting them, recognising their weaknesses and the strange rhythms of their lives, just as they come to recognise my warts and blemishes and my awkward ways. It’s delighting in them. Love is realising that they are precious to me because God longs for them, because they are precious to Him. To the statisticians one person out of 60 million is irrelevant, but to God that one person is worth dying for.  He isn’t blind to our faults and bad decisions, laziness, self-deceit, arrogance…. the list goes on. He sees it all. But because He is love, He loves us.

I am more conscious than ever of the people I love, family and friends. I’ve been exploring the reasons for that love, turning it over in my hands, marvelling at it, and it’s become undeniably real to me, ie I know for a fact, that this overwhelming love comes from God. It’s a love for them that requires nothing in return, not even recognition. My love serves them because it’s not about them, it’s not about me, it’s not about us. It’s about God. It’s something that God has given me, and I live it out in obedience and gratitude and joy. Amazing. The love I feel is as warming as any fire. I think of these people and my heart sings, I see them and I float, I pray for them and I’m transported.

I know all this is from God because, if love isn’t ‘any of the traits and attributes that make up yours truly’ how could I ever hope to love anyone like this?  I couldn’t. It really really isn’t in me. The love I have in my own strength is soppy sentimental, it’s conditional, fickle, it looks for a return of love. It’s what I used to know of love.  A lifetime of ho-hum love. But the love that God brings is complete and steadfast, eternal, unconditional. That love is God. God is love. He doesn’t change, or measure, or hold back. That’s the love we are offered as Christians, that’s the love that can live within us, that’s the love that can pour out of us.

Paradoxically, in this time of separation and isolation, it seems that we’re all thinking about love with a new understanding. We’re seeing a lot of Philia love just now, the love of one brother for another; we see it in the queues at the supermarket, and in the overflowing box of food-bank donations, in the many people anxiously scanning two or three shopping lists, their trolleys packed for elderly or sick neighbours and friends. Brotherly love is wonderful, and gentle. It’s the sign of a healthy community.

But, wonderful though this social kindness is, God’s love is so much stronger, richer.

Hmmm. Rewind. Forget that.  God’s love can’t be compared to any other emotion. It is of itself, alone and other. God’s generosity knows no bounds. He came to Earth as Man and did the greatest thing that any ordinary man can ever do for another. Or any extra-ordinary man.

We talk about Jesus dying as if that’s the whole story. Jesus died for us because He loved us. But He did so much more. He separated Himself from His own great divinity for us. “My God” He cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s what He did for us. That’s the greatest gift. God lived in submission to His own divinity, to the Spirit of God, all His life. Man and God in one life, united. And as man and as God He walked to the cross for us, even knowing that as He died He would be in physical and emotional torture, beyond description, without pity. He knew that as he died,  all the evil of the world would enter into His pure soul and loving heart, and He walked towards that agonising moment willingly.

As He died He knew it all, saw it all, accepted it all. Every stinking small and petty deceit that there has ever been. Think of that. Think of the wars and the brutalities, remember the things you’ve done and the things that have been done to you, the news broadcasts you’ve watched in horror, the war crimes, the abuse, the genocide….  think of the seedy bars, the sex trade, slavery, beatings…. He knew all that, crowding in, for us. Every lousy, mean, grubby, cruel brutal sin in all eternity, placed on Him. That’s the death He had for us.

For me and for you. Sinless, He became sinful man and at that moment He was torn away from His Father God. His nature rent in two.

I don’t know what my death will be, but I do know that no death in all the history of this world has been as agonising as the death of Jesus Christ. When I say ‘He died for me’ I need to remember that we all die. That’s part of life. But He did so much more. He sacrificed Himself, immolated Himself, tore Himself away from His own Divinity, saw all the evil of the world and carried all that guilt. For me.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And His final words in the book of John;

“It is finished”.

I find my jaw unclenching as we think of the body of Jesus taken down from the cross. Pain done. Shame finished. Peace.

The greatest story ever told. Fulfilled.



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