Indeed, LOVE may be the most misused and misunderstood word in the English language. I could write a blog on love everyday for a year and merely scratch the surface on what it means to me, and how it characterizes Father God.
This is the last Sunday of Advent, and I have been thinking about the boundless love of God for his creation (us!) in contrast to the ravaging hatred in our culture. I share with you the thoughts and words of Henri Nouwen and Eugene Peterson, two well-known authors who have written eloquent words about love. I can not do better.
In his book Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen wrote, “What can we say about God’s love: We can say that God’s love is unconditional. God does not say, ‘I love you, if….’ There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s heart. His love for us does not depend on what we do or say, on our looks or intelligence, on our success or popularity. God’s love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. God’s love is from eternity to eternity and is not bound to any time-related events or circumstances. Does that mean that God does not care what we do or say? No, because God’s love would not be real if God did not care. To love without condition does not mean to love without concern. God desires to enter into relationship with us, and he wants us to love him in return.”
Furthermore, “We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, deception, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do.”
Nouwen mediated deeply on the story of “Prodigal Son” (or, the “Parable of the Two Sons,” Luke 15:11-32), which is rich with the imagery of Father God and human beings. Nouwen wrote, “I realize the importance of returning over and over again. My life drifts away from God. My heart moves away from my first love. I have to return. My mind wanders to strange images. I have to return. Returning is a life-long struggle….God’s love does not require any explanations about why we are returning….To return to God means to return to God with all that I am and all that I have” (from The Road to Daybreak).
“We are the Beloved, not because we did anything…but we are sent to say, in the midst of our life, ‘Yes, God, I love you, too.’”
With respect of loving other people because God first loved us, the Apostle Paul described love both positively and negatively. Taken from The Message, Eugene Peterson has re-written perhaps the most well-known Pauline passage about loving one another:
“No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut; doesn’t have a swelled head; doesn’t force itself on others; isn’t always ‘me first;’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others; doesn’t revel when others grovel; takes pleasure in the flowering of truth; puts up with anything. Love trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies…..We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us. But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, and love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (1 Cor 13:3-13).
May you be blessed with God’s hope, and peace and joy and love this beautiful season.