Opinion: Love always wins
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Opinion: If God is love, we should rightly expect love to reveal itself on many levels.
I once read a comment about the iconic band, U2. The writer said that the band sees the universe as a place where all people and movements are being judged according to the standard of love. Songs such as “In the Name of Love,” support that idea. The main form of love in U2’s music is what we might call “sacrificial” love, the kind of love that moves someone to take a risk for someone else
And then there is the way in which Christian and Jewish people have overwhelmingly described God. Quoting the Bible it is said, “God is love.”
Two things, very quickly about that statement. First, love appears to be a more important attribute of God than anything else. The universe has many hints, we could even say, declarations that a god of intelligence is behind it. It is filled with complexity and beauty. Glory is maybe the best word. But God is not only a kind of mind or intelligence. He is also personal, meaning especially, that he loves.
Above all, God is love. An origin of the world that is not personal would in the end leave us with a universe that is interesting, but cold, lifeless, and hopeless. Many people recoil from such a view. Still, some modern people, heroically I would say, embrace it, or at least resign themselves to it.
The second thing about the understanding that “God is love” is that those who try to follow God do not always live up to what that statement implies. That there have been failures and cruelties done by people in the name of God seems obvious.
But the standard remains. God remains. If it didn’t, and if he didn’t, we would have only a weak basis (maybe none) for judging some actions to be good and others evil.
So, if God is love, we could rightly expect love to reveal itself on many levels. And I think that it does.
For today, I want to relate just one story as an example of how love, its demands, and the hope it brings, can be bundled into our lives.
Two weeks ago, a friend of mine died. It was after a long battle with cancer. He and I were students in seminary together. I’ll call him John.
By the time I met him, John had been the president of his high school students’ council. He had travelled across Canada. He once hitchhiked to Florida in winter, spending one night in Buffalo sleeping under a bridge. He had travelled to Europe and had lived in Israel, working on a kibbutz. He was a bit of prankster, which I think might have contributed to later problems.
Like me, he was married and the parent of several kids. He was not a small man, and so the flimsy lawn chair on which he once sat during a porch visit at our house did not survive.
We parted ways after seminary. John’s experiences in churches were not the greatest. Eventually, he was released from his role as a church leader, something that devastated him and his family. His marriage did not survive. One of his children, I’ll call him Peter, told me that he never wanted anything to do with his father again — which kind of broke my own heart to hear.
The service for John was by Zoom. The pastor who led the service spoke about how people liked being around him, but that at times he exasperated his friends
Still, John was loved. People, including acquaintances who tried to help him when he was let go by the church, were there to pray and to support the family.
His ex-wife, who is a close friend to my wife and me, did not remain absent. She also was there. One of his daughters talked about disappointment with her dad, but then about how she learned to love him in spite of his weaknesses. Another daughter posted pictures of her hugging John in his last days. I would not have recognized him if I hadn’t known who it was. They spoke about the trust in God he had imparted to them.
I myself got to talk with John by phone a few times at the end of 2020. He told me he was dying and how he longed to hear from his son. He seemed encouraged by my comments about the painting he took up in his last months. The paintings are, to me, primitive and brilliant.
He also told me that he was not afraid to die. He understood that he was an ordinary human being with hopes and unfulfilled dreams, who had done good, but also who had sinned. He trusted in God to take the whole package that was him in love, and to restore him to eternal life.
The pastor read from this passage in the Bible:
If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? ... Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture (from Romans 8; version: The Message).
Peter sat out the service for his father. His mother, John’s ex-wife, told me late that evening that he was very troubled. Conflicted, I would guess, between love for his father and his anger. But love, still there, I do not doubt. I believe that in time, it will win. Just as God’s love for John has.