Good Friday is properly called “good” even though it is one of the darkest days in the Christian calendar. Good Friday is ultimately about God’s incredible love for a fallen world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” John 3 renders a beautiful summation of God’s love, yet God’s love is not an easy topic for an editorial, and maybe not for a sermon either.What makes it difficult is that one can never do justice to how great God’s love is by talking about it. Our greatest efforts at explaining God’s love always fall far, far short of the intended goal. We can hint at God’s love through artistic means, like poetry, painting, sculpting, photography and singing. Singing “Amazing love, how can it be that you, my Lord, should die for me?” expresses our sense of wonder about God’s love better than an editorial or sermon. At least when we engage in art, we know that we are using a medium that suggests rather than states. That’s why our editor, Angela Reitsma Bick, is excited about the front page of this Easter issue.
A second reason that makes an editorial on God’s love difficult is that when we talk about God’s love it quickly becomes cheap discourse or boring generalization, because love is something you must experience rather than analyze. Just like you should never analyze a kiss. It kills the romance. That’s why lovers close their eyes when they kiss. It enhances the mystery. And we do want to “own the mystery” of God’s love as we, “adoring, bend the knee.”
God’s love is mysterious, it is profound, it is life-giving, it is undeserved, it is unexpected, it is freely given, it is better answered with a tear or a laugh than with a statement. Yet talk about God’s love we must.
What love is not
It may help to know what love is by understanding what love is not. That applies to God’s love as well as to human love.
Love, for example, is not the same as sentiment. Sentiment has to do with feelings. Now it is true that love involves feelings, strong feelings, in fact. But feelings do not play a leading function. Feelings follow love, but feelings do not steer love. Many people get married on the basis of feelings, only to discover that feelings cannot keep the marriage going. That’s because feelings are transitory, and they melt away in the midst of conflict and trouble.
The fact that Jesus died on a cross should make it clear to us that God’s love is not primarily sentiment. There is nothing touchy-feely about the cross. It’s an instrument of torture, and for Jesus it is marked by pain and suffering.
Love is not the same as liking either. Liking means you have something in common with another person, and you enjoy being near the person. It means there’s a certain chemistry between you and others that translates easily into friendship. Liking is nice, but it is not the same as love. You can like a car, for example, but you cannot love a car, even though some enthusiast will tell you that he loves his Toyota Camry.
You cannot love a car because a car cannot love you back. Loving has to have the potential of being loved back. And love is essentially sacrificial in nature. Or, as someone wrote on the flyleaf of a Bible for a spouse, “Love is meeting your needs at my expense.”
This is why Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. We know that Jesus loved his one disciple, John, and he may even have liked Peter, with his spontaneous and bold character, but he did not die for people he liked. At least that was not the reason for his willingness to die on a cross. He was motivated by love. And that love was extended to the unloving and almost unlovable people we have become because of our complicity with Satan.
What love is
God is love, but we, human beings, are not love. We are dependent on love, true, but the essence of our being is not love. In this regard, we are like the moon and God is like the sun. The sun radiates light and heat from its own burning hearth. But the moon can only reflect the light of the sun and emits very little heat. Compared to the sun, the moon is pale and cool. Compared to God, the best among us are faintly loving and barely warm of heart. And sin often causes us to wane like a sliver of moon.
Sounds pessimistic? Yes, but that is because I compared our love to the love of God. Fortunately, God does not expect us to rival his love. That’s why the church confesses: “No earthly father loves like you, no mother half so mild bears and forbears as you have done with me, your sinful child.”
The good news of Good Friday is that God’s love, unconditionally offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, can become the foundation of our loving and living. So that “I may love you too, O Lord, almighty as you are, for you have stooped to ask of me the love of my poor heart.”
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