Monday, February 10, 2014

Character of God: Love

Love is a four-letter word.  It stinks when people love you. When they violate all your carefully laid out defenses, storm past your walls and demand, no force you to do what they know you should.  That kind of messy, powerful love is rare in people of any stripe and nearly unheard of in our hyper-independent American culture.

I have people like that in my life.  They love me the way that God does.  

We often comment on the fact that without faith and our willing obedience God's love is rendered powerless.  Yet before we could venture to love him, he had taken enormous amounts of initiative.

Just think.  Did Abraham come seeking God?  Did he search out a holy mountain, offer sacrifices and decide for himself which God he should serve?  Nope.  God called Abraham to leave his homeland for an unknown destination (Genesis 12:1-6).  When childless, God promised him a family that would outnumber the stars in the sky. When Abraham was a nomad, God promised him a homeland (Genesis 13-15). God's love sought out Abraham to bless him and to make a people out of him.

But the love that drew Abraham and blessed him wasn't all the love that God had to pour out on him.  Instead when Abraham would have settled for Ishmael born out of Sarah's fear, God insisted on Isaac born of Sarah's womb (Genesis 16-18, 21).  When Abraham would have clung to his son (the very proof of God's power in Abraham's life), God demanded that he sacrifice even that to realize not only how much faith he had, but how much God loved him (Genesis 22). God's love refused to let Abraham slide by; he was the father of many nations and the example of what it means to have faith because he was God's friend. (2 Chronicles 20:7)

Or take Israel.  The prophets have plenty of images to describe the intense way God loved her.  Ezekiel describes Israel as an abandoned baby, still bloody and left screaming at the side of the road.  God rescued her.  Then when she grew from a baby to a woman, he took her to be his wife (Ezekiel 16). Babies and nations alike learn to love because they are first loved (1 John 4:19).

But that's far from the end of the story. Hosea picks up Ezekiel's theme and portrays Israel as an adulterous wife turning here and there looking for love "in all the wrong places."  Rejecting God and being rejected in turn. Yet God in his sorrow can't leave her alone; he goes and redeems her, buying her out of her the prostitution she had sold herself into (to read more of Hosea's story click here).  God loved her too much to leave her hopeless.  

God's love isn't about Valentines and Hallmark cards. It is tougher, broader, bigger than anything we can imagine.Do we have a simpering, simplistic view of love?  Are we thinking hearts, chocolates and flutters in our tummy? God's love encompasses us from our first birth through our first sin, from our first rebellion through our last surrender. When Hosea plays God's part by buying back his own adulterous wife, I doubt it was a warm and fuzzy moment. When John says God is love, we've got to stop thinking Hallmark and start thinking tougher, broader, and bigger.

We've got to BE tougher, broader and bigger.  Just like God we've got to go out and love people first and on purpose. We've got to love the unlovable; we've got to love people who have never, maybe will never love us back. It's not enough to love those who love us, Jesus says ordinary people do that every day. 

You have heard that it was said, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus demands here that we show the same even-handed love that God shows everyday. He sends blessings like sun and rain, on those who hate him, who persecute his children, who do abominable things everyday. Teachers show this kind of love to the classes, as do doctors when they give good care to the nastiest of patients.  But is offering love enough?

Not nearly.  The same God who sent Abraham to the mountain with his precious child as a sacrifice, the same God who sent Hosea to the slave market to buy back his slutty wife, asks us to love the world in the toughest way.  We have to do what's best, what's right, what's good for them even when they may hate us in return. Stephen and the martyrs who followed him demonstrated this when they joined the Savior in dying to show God's love.

We hate to be rejected, embarrassed, nosy, or in people's faces.  We don't want to "butt in."   When we don't share God's love with the lost, when we are willing to settle for less than what's best, we're not lacking in courage--we're lacking in love.  
Love calls out into the darkness on to higher ground.  The love that God pours out on us, shakes our whole world. Pouring out the love that God poured out on us will shake everyone we touch.   It's not easy but when we love and are loved like that, we are most truly, the image of God.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

1 comment:

  1. I especially liked this line- "Pouring out the love that God poured out on us will shake everyone we touch." What an encouragement! You're right that true love is vulnerability, boldness, unconditional, and all sorts of other scary things. I'm so glad we have God's love to show us how it's done.