By Ben Swift
Dedicated to Christy Jean Clarke (1974 – 2017)
“The beautiful simplicity of our faith is that it distils down to the exact same bottom line for both the brilliant theologian and the five-year-old child: love God and love each other – period.” (Richard Stearns)
Recently after attending the memorial service for a well-loved colleague who had passed away, I was overwhelmed by the intimate affect that one person could have on the lives of many people. Upon reflection, this remarkable woman’s legacy was so profound because her life, once unfolded and relived through those closest to her, embodied the essence of Stearn’s statement. It was said that while some people collect all manner of things, she collected people; people who responded to the genuine love shown for both God and others. To attend such a celebration of life is to hold a ticket to ride a rollercoaster of emotion, one that carries you from sorrow to joy to pure inspiration.
Several years ago, singer songwriter, Stevie Nicks, wrote a song called ‘Landslide’. Her lyrics, although reflecting on her personal issues, run deep and can serve to help us understand that life can sometimes take us to the top of the world, but in an instant, a landslide can bring us down. Consider the words of Stevie Nicks:
Oh mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
And there lies the question that no human being can avoid. Can any of us handle the seasons of our lives? While there are many different ways we as people seek to sail through the changing ocean tides, few would disagree that ‘love’ must be part of the answer. But what is love? Or more importantly, “What is real love?”
It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “God is Love” but it’s the way in which we interpret this statement that becomes important to how it impacts our life. Our understanding of God as love will be shaped by our understanding of God in relation to both Himself and His creation. It is only in the relationship expressed in the Trinity that we can fully understand love, as this is the source of all eternal love.
‘Love is not eternal because the poet may ever so beautifully say so, but rather because God is eternal and says so. Each person in the Godhead eternally loves the other Persons. God eternally loves God and His neighbour as Himself. Love, therefore, protects and promotes the wellbeing of others.’ (McKinlay)
Stemming from this understanding of ‘God as love’, we who seek to love as Christ loves must see ‘God’s love for the world calling out an answering love from us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us but that he is love itself.’ (Wright)
To the Christian it is clear that to understand love, and indeed to be truly loving, we must be in Christ, whose love exists eternally in the perfect loving relationship of the Trinity. This is because all aspects of love have been and are continually experienced and expressed in the relationship of the Trinity. The Triune God can identify with our human stories because He has firsthand experience with the emotions tied to our experiences of love. We see this time and again as we explore the revealed God of the Scriptures in the life of Christ.
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9b)
Louis Berkhof, in his book, ‘Systematic Theology’, suggests that ‘since God is absolutely good in Himself, His love cannot find complete satisfaction in any object that falls short of absolute perfection. He loves His rational creatures [us] for His own sake….He loves them in Himself, His virtues, His work, and His gifts.’ In other words, God’s love for us is tightly intertwined with us as His image bearers, sinful but perfected in Christ.
As we come to see love in light of God’s true nature, we come to a deeper appreciation of how great the sacrifice made on our behalf as Christ took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. Christ the Son, eternally existing in perfect love with the Father, being separated from Him as he took upon Himself the curse rightfully owned by humanity, is an act of love we will never fully comprehend. Jesus does however, give us a glimpse of His anguish both when praying in the garden before His arrest and from the cross.
“He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:35-36)
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Although many would agree with the words of Jesus in John 15:13 in that there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for another, the question of how a loving God could sacrifice His one and only Son is the flip side of ‘The Cross’. While there is mystery surrounding the events of the cross, just as there is mystery as to why people have love for one another at all, what was achieved through Christ on the cross helps us make sense of our own love.
We love because Christ first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
When it comes to ‘love’ there is much to be said and much that has been said. I wonder when the band, ‘The Beatles’, bombarded the airwaves with, “All you need is love”, if they had any idea of the truth that lay behind these words. While these words ring true in many ears, their power becomes real only when they acknowledge that ‘God is love’. All we need is God and the perfect love that can only be found in the Trinitarian relationship of God. In the Father’s deep love for the Son, we who belong to Christ have been given to Him as a loving gift from the Father.
Let us thank God for the people in our lives who truly bear the image of God by reflecting His love in their lives. These are the people whose theology becomes brilliant in their simple acts of loving God and loving others.