Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

How God Loves

March 18, 2009

Earlier this month, an article made the rounds on the web explaining what it feels like to be both a practicing Christian and a non-practicing homosexual. It’s pretty good, and it set off a fair amount of online discussion. I’m not looking to explain my understanding of this hot-button issue here. I already wrote a really long article about it a long time ago. Wesley Hills, who writes as a Christian who is gay, tells of the loneliness that comes from being different from so many around him. What struck me most in his article was the following passage:

I know well-meaning Christians who often remind me, “God’s love for you is better than any love you might find in a human relationship.” While I believe this is true in an ultimate and profound sense, putting it this way seems to set up a false dichotomy. A statement more in sync with the drift of the New Testament might go something like this: “God’s love for us is expressed and experienced mainly through the medium of human relationships.”

That last statement really stuck with me. I’ve seen that false dichotomy before. And he’s right: I don’t feel God’s love in a vacuum. Separated from actual relationships with people, my relationship with God can be entirely “in my head.” Now don’t get me wrong…I know Him on my own, too. But my relationship with Him needs anchors–contact points with the world around me. And I find that comes most often through people.

I know, objectively speaking, that God is present, that He is involved in my life, and that He cares for me. But I am not merely an intellectual being (despite how my blog may make me sound sometimes!). I also FEEL. And I feel His love through the love of other people. And truth be told, the only truths that really change you are the truths that make you feel something. That’s not existentialism, by the way, it’s just a fact. We can “believe” all kinds of things without them really affecting us, changing us. But when something really moves us, we really change.

This made me think a bit about how God’s care for those around me gets communicated through me. It’s a humbling thought, really. For example, my children will gain part of their image of God through what I teach them about God, objectively speaking. But the most lasting impressions of Him will come from how I treat them. How I love them. If they grow up feeling the care and love of their father, they will find it much easier to see how their heavenly Father loves them, too.

In truth, the same thing goes for all my other relationships. It’s true for my wife, for my friends and extended family, and for the brothers and sisters in my church community. When I stop and consider it, I mean really stop. And consider. This thought adds such weight and meaning to even the simplest moments with others. I am becoming a vehicle for the love of God, right there in the middle of every day, boring stuff. Pretty cool.

The Dancing God

February 26, 2007

Once again, I find that C.S. Lewis put his finger on things that I didn’t realize he had.

The words “God is Love” have no real meaning unless that one person contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.

I came across this idea first in the writings of Norman Grubb. I’m sure the realization didn’t originate with either of these two British gents.

What both of them are saying is that if God is Love, then He must be plural. He must be a community of at least two. One person alone cannot be Love, because there must be an object for His affection other than Himself. As it turns out, our scriptures describe three persons of God. The Father and the Son we understand (sort of). But this third Person evades description. Trying to describe our God strains our language beyond what it can handle, because even our concept of a “person” leaves some things unexplained here. Lewis goes on to say:

God is not a static thing–not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person.

A dance. Now that’s beautiful. My apologies to all the old school Southern Baptists out there. But this is a truly charming and illustrative image. So much of my confusion cleared up once this idea got a hold of me.

It works for understanding the union of the Trinity, as my theology professors once pointed out. When they said it, they had to use a fancy Latin word for it (circumincessio) so that they wouldn’t feel irreverent. Everything feels more legitimate once it’s put in Latin, you know. Circumincessio indicates a kind of mutual enfolding which expands and contracts, so that they are one, and two, and one again. As if one Latin term doesn’t cut it, my professors felt the need to bolster this concept with a second, Greek term (perichoresis), which essentially means the same thing. But now it’s in both Latin and Greek, so it’s gotta be okay to believe, right?

But the Dance extends beyond the inner relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus said that we would come to know the same kind of relationship (it’s at the end of John 17, I’m not making this up). We are becoming one with God in the same way that He is already one with Himself (!)

If you think about it, this explains a lot. I have always gotten confused about whether I am separate from God or one with Him. Sometimes I pray to Him. Other times I feel like He is praying through me. But which is right? Which is better?

It’s a dance. You get what I’m saying? Watch two people dancing. They are two, then they are one. Then they are two again. Back and forth. Around and around. In front of, behind, between, above, below, apart, and together again. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? When two are joined in a dance, something arises between them that is more than simply the sum of two parts.

And that is what’s happening with us and God. Christ is in us, then He is above us. He is our every breath and heartbeat, then we turn and address Him as if He were with us instead of in us. We are meant to enjoy and preserve both. Sometimes we lose consciousness of His separateness from us, because we are so one. But then He comes to us and gets our attention as if He were introducing some side of Himself that we’ve never seen before.

There will always be more. His dance has spins and steps you’ve never seen. But always He brings us back into who He is, so that folks looking on will hardly be able to tell where He ends and we begin.

It’s a Dance.

Radical Inversion

April 20, 2006

Okay, so here’s a thought for the day. If we learn nothing else from the stories of Jesus’ ministry, we learn that Jesus was out to radically reorient the way we think about our religious affections towards God. Case in point: Look at one of the first things he said in his public ministry. In chapter five of Matthew (v.23-24) Jesus said that if you have something unresolved between yourself and a brother you shouldn’t bother bringing an offering to God. You should drop your offering right then and there and go be reconciled with your brother. Wow. If you really stop and think about it, that’s a radical inversion of our priorities. I’d venture to say that even after all these centuries this instruction from Jesus has never really sunk in.

Think about it for a second. What Jesus is saying here is that our relationships with one another are as essential to worship as is our actual offerings to God. While we habitually place our devotion to God on the highest level and relegate our devotion to one another on a (much) lower plane, Jesus inverts that and suggests that you should resolve your issues with those in the church before you should even consider offering your praise and adoration to the Father.

There are dozens of other places where the New Testament gives us the same inversion of priorities, but I just want to soak in this one for a while. There’s something really big being expressed here about our Father. He cares intensely about how His children get along with one another. Jesus said that the world will know that we are children of our Father because of our love for one another. And here we were, all this time, thinking that it was our devotion to God that set us apart. John’s first letter to a church is almost exclusively about this one matter: that our love for God is manifested primarily in our love for one another. If you love your Father, you love his children.

So don’t let anyone tell you that your relationships with your brothers and sisters in the church should be relegated to a place of secondary importance. That’s not how our Father sees it. He will have a house of Love. That is how we will be known. So let’s get to it.