Few words are tossed about so freely about so many things as love. We say we love ice cream or pizza, coffee or soda. We say we love music or sports, mountains or the beach. We say we love each other and then struggle to define what we mean when we say love or “each other”.
Perhaps the problem is with the English language that only has one word used to describe emotions about so many things and yet, love is not simply an emotion. Love, at its best, is a lifestyle and a decision and it’s hard.
We would like to think love is a part of who we are, but in reality it resides at all only if we have embraced and taken into ourselves the One who is love incarnate. His love was not sloppy, not gushy with words. It was direct, full of truth, and demonstrated moment-by-moment. There was nothing common about it. For that reason, we should use the word with a bit more insight and understanding.
We see it at its finest in today’s world when someone puts another person ahead of him or her without even thinking or pausing to consider. We hear it in the stories of the heroes whose names we do not recall from the tragedy in Las Vegas. Love set aside uniqueness, preferences, differences, and opinions and focused instead on the unvarnished fact that each of us is connected to each other by virtue of our humanity. So those heroes plunged into the chaos without consideration of their own safety for the love of another.
You have read a number of quotes from the novel, Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry in recent weeks. In the complex characterization Berry weaves about Jayber, we can see the insight and wisdom that any one of us can reflect upon. As he reflects back on his life (now an older man) he says:
“I have got to the age now where I can see how short a time we have to be here…There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows that for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things.”
Jayber had struggled with his relationship with God and also with the verses about love in the Bible. By the time he was 70, he realized ignoring the verses about how God loved the world was a mistake.
He reached a new understanding: “If God loved the world even before the event at Bethlehem, that meant He loved it as it was, with all its faults. That would be Hell itself, in part. He would be like a father with a wayward child, whom He can’t help and can’t forget. But it would be even worse than that, for He would also know the wayward child and the course of its waywardness and suffering.”
What a profound depiction of the Father’s love for us (and this earth) that He created.
He went on to muse: “What answer can human intelligence make to God’s love for the world? What answer, for that matter, can it make to our own love for the world? If a person loved the world—really loved it and forgave its wrongs and so might have his own wrongs forgiven—what would be next?”
What indeed would be next? I think few of us has done more than scratch the surface in grappling with what love is or looks like in its highest and best form in our humanity.
When Jayber grappled with love of the highest sort, it ultimately took Him to the garden: “I finally knew…why Christ’s prayer in the garden could not be granted. He had been seeded and birthed into human flesh. He was one of us. Once He had become mortal, He could not become immortal except by dying. That He prayed that prayer at all showed how human He was. That He knew it could not be granted showed His divinity; that He prayed it anyhow showed His mortality, His mortal love of life that His death made immortal.”
We, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, could learn much more of love than we do, but that would also root out so much of what we are comfortable with of that old nature that lurks in the edges waiting to trip us up. Are we really ready to let go of the familiar for the extraordinary? He will never force us even after we have committed ourselves to Him.
But consider this from Jayber as I leave you today:
“God does not coerce the love of His human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another. To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering. It is our freedom and His sorrow. To love the world as much even as I could love it would be suffering also, for I would fail. And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.”