Tag Archive: God’s love


Life, Love, and Zero Sum

“Love is the one true innovation”
– Jon Foreman

My mom was one of 21 siblings, and my grandmother said that whenever a child was born, love was born with it. There was an inexhaustible supply; there was ALWAYS enough love no matter how big her family got.

In nature, if one wins, the other loses. Economists call this “zero sum”; when you add up the gains and losses of both sides, they add up to zero. Assuming no outside interference, the lion gains food and life at the expense of the gazelle it eats.

Those who think the physical world is all that is real would agree this is the way things are, along with its companion: cause and effect. Everything happens because something else already in existence caused it.

But choosing to love against our natural inclinations is different. Think about loving an enemy, or even those whom we have no expectation of getting loved back. That is unnatural in the most precise meaning of the word, something that would not happen if nature took its course.

When we choose to love thus we create an event without a cause. And love as a moral choice is evidence that the universe is not a closed system: to die for a stranger or to love an enemy is just plain unnatural. Love reaches in and disrupts the natural order.

Those who say the physical universe is all there is must ignore this moral potential. They would reduce it to a series of chemical reactions in our brains but can’t give a logically rigorous explanation as to why someone would sacrifice or love with no strings attached. They may insist it’s the “selfish gene” or some sort of evolutionary programming to propagate our species but it can’t be proven by experiment and at any rate begs the question.

And this is why Judeo-Christian thought states that God is love, and that alone out of all the creation stories, only Judeo-Christian thought asserts that God created “ex nihilo”, out of nothing.

Because love alone can create events without prior cause. It can create care for the unlovely, love for an enemy – or create a universe. God loves, and commands love. And He further demonstrates this love when He becomes man, dies for estranged mankind and resurrects, His final word on the defeat of sin.

The Bible nothing less than the story of God’s proactive love reaching down to create a good world and then to mend it after we fell.

Fallen From Grace

We often use the term “fallen from grace” to describe a person who’s given up on religion – but the ones who appear the most religious are often the ones furthest from that grace.

How so? The default mode of the human heart is legalism: because we’re always trying to justify ourselves instead of letting God do it. We strive and measure and compare.
A person can be very religious and still be a hide-bound legalist, one’s sense of self-righteousness, the very reason for existence all tied up in personal performance instead of just resting in what God’s done. But the tax collectors and prostitutes who met Jesus had no such illusions about their train wreck lives and heard the message of grace gladly. The interesting thing is that after meeting Jesus their lives got a lot more moral, but it was a RESULT of the grace already given.
Hold nothing back; He wants nothing less than all of you. Give Him your heart – really – and you will be changed, but in a new way: from the inside out, a fundamental remaking of who you are.

 

Ivory Towers?

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.’”
I worry sometimes that we have lost our connection with the world; that we are neither of the world, nor in it.
For those who take their Christian faith seriously, it’s easy to become entrenched in a sort of churchy sub-culture. We’re so worried that we’ll be infected by worldly thought and values that we cloister ourselves away in our churches; we have special Christian schools (lest our children be infected by the world) and our friends are mainly other believers. We don’t get really involved with the unchurched who live nearby – we may be on speaking terms, but rarely take the time to dig in deep and share their hopes, joys, or their tragedies.
What are we afraid of? If our God is who He says he is, why are we scared? These people are on a journey – as are we – but they need to hear about Jesus and what He’s done. How will that happen if we don’t involve ourselves in their lives?
How to do that? By loving people. We can open our homes; we can befriend without an agenda. We can join the PTA, serve in community functions, join clubs, just be all around normal folks – but with a mission to love and serve and put others first. Don’t preach to your neighbours: converse with them. Share their triumphs and their failures, their hopes and fears. I suspect that it won’t be long before people start to wonder why we’re different.
They often won’t come to us; I don’t wonder that many are hesitant to come to church. Think for a minute how we look to someone growing up in a post-Christian culture: we appear, I think, as a sort of clique, one with a specialized culture and language that we seem to take very seriously. We are intimidating.
By becoming human, Jesus identified with lost humanity. He was the Friend of Sinners. Shouldn’t we likewise identify with the lost? They are our fellow humans with their train-wreck lives and disfunction (and of course we may have our own problems; heaven forbid they find out we’re human too!).
We’re called priests and ambassadors; we stand in the gap between unredeemed humanity and God.
By isolating ourselves in our churches we do not serve the world as we should. We need to get out of our ivory towers, go out into the world, and humbly share God’s love with them. They may reject (at first) what you have to say, but nobody can deny the power of real love. Even if they never want to hear the Gospel, they will know that God’s people (and by extension, God) cared.

God’s Love

C.S. Lewis, in his classic tome The Four Loves, describes the different kinds of love as Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Agape. The first three are based in nature; the fourth, Agape, is God’s love: eternal and underived.

Love that is not self-existent is necessarily fickle, because it is part of nature; that is, the material universe. Natural love can grow cold through time, distance, and betrayal; it depends on an object of love. But God’s love can’t, because it is its own source. Even when betrayed, God’s love, the kind that isn’t the what’s-in-it-for-me variety – continues to love and to give, for that is its essential nature. “God IS love”. We are told that God’s love is demonstrated in that while we were still enemies, still separated from God by our rebellion, that Christ died for us. That’s the kind of love that loves in spite of our rebellion, our betrayal, our decision to not trust. It is indicated in the original Greek as “agape” love. It doesn’t happen because of something else: it’s not loving in return for being loved. It loves even when love isn’t returned. And we are told to have that kind of love when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, the unlovely and unattractive.

How are we to display this kind of love? Especially, how do we do so when we don’t feel like it, which is (at least concerning enemies or the unlovable) most of the time?

First, we need to ask ourselves: is love a feeling – or a choice? If it’s a feeling, then it’s simply a reaction to something else, to someone else’s love or affection. And it’s no big deal; Jesus said that anybody can do that, but that we are called to something more. Matthew 5:43-45 says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”.

What Jesus is pointing out here is that like God, we are spiritual beings and as such live in a moral realm. To choose to love is a moral choice; the Author of morality loves, and as we also live in this spiritual, moral realm, we can choose to love as well, regardless of our natural reactions of hate and revenge. Animals don’t make reasoned moral choices in the same way humans can. They simply react.

So it is a choice, a moral choice. And loving somebody does not mean convincing yourself that they are nicer than they are, or even that they deserve your love. It means action, sometimes in spite of your knowledge or feelings about them. The interesting thing is that when we act loving,  the feelings usually do come; but they are after the fact. We are to love out of obedience to God’s command, and because we are of the same sort as He: spirit beings, His very sons and daughters. He is in effect telling us to act like the redeemed children of God that we are, to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Our love is supposed to be our hallmark, the sign to the world that we belong to Jesus.

I wonder how much more peaceful our churches would be if this was more in evidence; or how much stronger our families and marriages would be if we consistently practiced this kind of love with our spouses and children, being kind and loving even when the other has hurt us.

The exciting thing is that we can.

Getting past the idea that love is a feeling is key. Love is action, and action involves a choice to be proactive instead of being driven by our emotions. When you try to love someone who is unkind or unlovely – not because of anything you might get out of it, but because it’s the right thing to do –  you aren’t being “phony” (certainly the lamest excuse on the planet); you’re being obedient to God’s law of love. We will certainly stumble, especially when we first decide to obey God this way, but I suspect it gets easier with practice, and God will help us if we ask Him (Hebrews 4:16).

Realizing this has tremendous practical implications, and is an important part of gaining a functional life in our relations with others. In his excellent book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduces the idea of an “emotional bank account” that we have with each person we know. When we rub with others, when we react with anger, or are the instigators ourselves, we make withdrawals from this emotional bank account. Eventually, we may go bankrupt, and from that point on things we say, even when offered with genuine motives, will be suspect. We won’t be given the benefit of the doubt, and motives may be attributed to our actions that aren’t even there. The person reacts negatively (when we thought we were being so nice), we get hurt, and respond with anger (which merely confirms the other’s suspicions): and a vicious cycle ensues.

If we are, on the other hand, proactive in our decision to love – when even in spite of the other person’s actions or reactions, we continue to make deposits – we’ll be cut some slack when we eventually mess up. The dynamic created is positive, and tends towards healing and reconciliation.

But there is an important caveat: if we want to mend our fences with someone, we must be patient. It may take a while to build trust, and we may have lots of deposits to make. Don’t expect a favourable reaction the first time out: but if you persist, love will truly win the day.

The same principle works in reverse as well. If we treat people with disdain, if we indulge in petty cruelties and snubs, we soon find it easier to hate.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing”. Doesn’t it stand to reason that in the light of eternity, “nothing” is what these human loves accomplish when compared to God’s love? Nature, with its cause-and-effect, reactive character, will be remade; only God’s love, self existent and underived, is eternal and unaffected by the reception it gets. He IS Love. When we separate from God, we are cut off from that kind of love. What remains is a pale imitation of it, and always contingent on the environment it finds itself in.  Love means vulnerability, and betrayal can cool one’s love in a heartbeat – unless it’s a disinterested love, a love that expects nothing in return, but loves because that is Its essence: God’s love. We need rather to be conduits for that kind of love, and for that to happen, we need to be reconnected.