Apparently it’s some kind of special day today, so I thought I’d do a special post to mark the occasion.
When John wrote his epistle and wanted to some God up in one word, there are many words he could have chosen:
God is just.
God is faithful.
God is patient.
God is all-powerful.
God is light.
All these words would have been more or less accurate as descriptions of God.
But instead, John chose the one word that he felt summed God up better than any other:
God is love.
So what? you might ask. What’s the big deal? Love is overrated. Love is all around.
You see, we often think of God’s love as an abstract kind of thing, as though God is somewhere up there happily engaged in an eternal love-fest with his alter egos in the Trinity.
God is love, we say to ourselves, that’s nice.
And this is where we need to jettison all our misinformed, tarnished ideas about love. Perhaps we’ve been overly influenced by the romanticised, sentimental kind of love that is the stuff of Valentine’s cards and pop songs. Maybe we’ve been let down and hurt once too often by those who said they loved us and then proved the opposite by their actions. Or perhaps we just look at our own dismal selves and conclude that, even if God is love, He’ll surely pass over the sorry mess of our lives and our sin-sick hearts and find someone more worthy of such a gift.
But… God is love. It is who He is, and it is what He does, incessantly, uncompromisingly, recklessly.
He does not love you because you are loveable, and He does not love you in spite of your unloveliness. He loves you because He is love. And because, whether you know it or not, you are His child.
He loves like the prodigal’s father, waiting day after day for his wayward son to return.
He loves like the shepherd who walks mile after mile, through thorns and ditches, to rescue the one lost sheep.
He loves like the hen who gathers and protects her chicks under her wings.
And yet all of these illustrations, powerful as they are, are as nothing compared to how He loves.
This is how He loves: he empties himself, makes himself of no reputation, and pours out His life in blood, spit and tears at the foot of a Roman cross.
John knew that this is how God loves, because he knew Jesus. Tradition has it that this is the same John who was so close to Jesus that he leaned on his chest at the last supper. The same John who stood at the foot of the cross to the bitter end, long after the rest of Jesus’ motley crew had run for cover. And the same John who was first to the empty tomb two days later.
So marked was John by this new kind of love revealed in the life and death of Jesus that it turned his very identity inside out: no longer would he refer to himself as just John the fisherman or even John the disciple, but as John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.
John knew that this love, once it gets past your defences and seeps into your heart, marks you forever. You are branded by it.
And that is who we are: the ones whom God loves with the love revealed to us in Jesus.
I conclude this meditation with the words of a fine nineteenth century hymn that is, thankfully, still sung today:
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.
On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.
— William Rees (1802-1883)
[ Image: Juliana Coutinho ]