There was a time I felt particularly strongly that a talk I was asked to give at an event in University should be about love. I was pretty sure it was God telling me this because I had no reason to think I knew anything about love at all. I was long-term single, pretty sure I’d be staying that way for a while, struggled with family relationships and generally didn’t feel that loved, loveable or loving much at all.
A lot has changed since then (it’s been 5 years): I met Bear, got married, and got Guin our adorable Bernese, and more recently had our first child. All of this has helped me feel love, experience it in many forms, understand a little more than I might have previously. Even so I still feel that what I had to say about love is just as relevant, important and necessary – particularly in the heart-filled month of February! Despite me still feeling undeserving or uncomfortable with the love stuff sometimes, on a spiritual level God tells me otherwise and has taught me a lot.
Yesterday may have been Valentine’s Day but here are some truths about love; they may not be comfortable, but love (and truth) rarely is:
- God’s one and only, complete and pure love, is not slush, it does not fit into little boxes of human expression (no matter what the language), it is not pink and fluffy and cannot be put into a few words of a once-a-year poem in a card.
- Love is best understood as a verb. This also helps to explain a little more of the trinity of God because God is continually loving and loved and we are brought into that circle through the Son (see below for more on this bit). Love is something done, acted upon, and only really truly referred to as a noun in relation to God – who Himself loves and acts in love continuously.
We know the love that God has for us, and we trust that love. God is love. Those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
1 John 4:16 (NCV)
- Love is the best thing to fight fear. Love is like light and fear darkness. God’s love can do anything and does not frighten us into obedience, scare us into following; instead God woos us and invites us to come into a relationship that will make us whole and build us up, in complete contrast to the brutality of fear which attempts to tear us down.
Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears. We love because God first loved us.
1 John 14:18-19 (NCV)
- Love is the most difficult thing to ask of someone, and it can never be forced. Yet, to reply to anyone with anything other than love is to deny someone a look at Christ. Love is the first (and second) and greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37-39) and it is important not to hide the love of Jesus because of our own anger or pride.
Mother Teresa understood the sacrifice of love all too well. One story describes her acts of love:
“Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet… Years of loving her neighbour as herself deformed her feet.”
The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne
- Loving your enemies should not be disregarded, and is not easy. Jesus loved those that mocked, tortured and killed Him. He suffered huge amounts of pain, and yet pleaded on their behalf, forgiving them, and gave Himself up for them, dying on a cross. It is not OK to suggest that this is impractical and therefore irrelevant, but nor is it OK to abuse this example in order to keep the vulnerable oppressed. It is not easy because it goes against everything the world tries to teach us.
- God as love, came through vulnerability, in poverty and hardship. Love was not glorious, jewelled, spotlit, paraded or even welcome. He came in pain, blood, expecting nothing in return, unconditionally. Maybe this is why love is so often taken for granted, seen as small, but ultimately love came in this way and acted as a mustard seed, working its way through everything, powerful beyond expectation. Love should not be underestimated because it has changed (and continues to change) the world.
- Love has no boundaries. It is not something exclusive to a race, a group, a gender. It does not stop at your front door and wait to be welcomed, it does not consider a country’s border or a continent’s shoreline. It is international and flows out of every worshipping mouth, every prayerful tongue, and every heart longing for God. Love is unstoppable and uncontrollable.
- However much we feel we are able to love, it is nothing in comparison to God’s true love. We have family, friends, wives, husbands, children, brothers and sisters, and yet we still cannot know love fully without God. It is in Him that we can see the sacrifice, the pain, the truth, the humility, the wholeness, and purity of true love. The best we can do is attempt to show others a little bit more of God through our lives.
Taking all this in it is perhaps accurate to suggest that St Valentine would not be so impressed with what a day in his name has turned into. By all means show the people in your lives the love you feel for them, but think more fully about loving more fully more frequently. Try to show love to those you find uncomfortable, difficult, and harsh. Love those who don’t expect it and might not know love well at all. Offer love in the hardest of situations and attempt to feel love more within yourself instead of blocking it with anger or hurt. Allow God to teach you what love truly is and what example it sets, and work to spread it out – the world needs more love. It is in fact true to say all you need is love, but God is love, and that love is truly the best thing to have.
(When I say this helps to explain the trinity what I mean is that love has to be seen as a verb in order to explain the relational aspect of the trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit all have each other. They were not lonely before they created us, they did not and do not need us for anything. We were created out of the overflowing love that they already had in abundance. So to set it out: Father loves the Son and Holy Spirit and in turn is loved by both, as they love each other too. This is a triangle of loving and being loved. When we are brought into God and relationship we are surrounded by this love and love in return. This is massive because if God is beyond time and space and everything then this amount of love is bigger than can be explained and covers everything. Not surprising we find it so difficult to explain or understand!)