We see but the reflection of a riddle. 1 Cor:13

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are All Semantic Distinctions Just Semantics?

When i suggested in the subtitle that this blog would be variations on a theme, I hadn't intended to simply blog about the one topic using different words. However, I'm going to try to expand my thinking on the first post both as a follow up to my first post and in response to those who have commented (for whom I am truly grateful) and a number of conversations I have had in the last few days.

There has been concerns/critique expressed in regards to the way in which the suggested reorienting our focus from our own personal love to the love of God seems to abdicate responsibility or understate the role/place of the individual as a loving entity. In effect, I seem to be downplaying the agency of human beings in favour of a kind of human-vessel through which the love of God can flow/be known/become manifest. This is true insofar as I am wanting to suggest that "pure" love is of God and is God and as such, we cannot manufacture or contrive this love as if we were its origin. We can however, open ourselves up to God/love and by so doing, allow ourselves to become 'lovers'. We do this in all sorts of ways from the seemingly mundane to the seemingly life-altering. This is essentially a humbling before God ('dying to self' or however else you want to express it or whichever other Biblical allusion you choose to favour).

What I am trying to emphasise is the proper procession of love. We do not create in ourselves the "pure" love of God and thus join ourselves to God. But conversely, through our joining with God (loving as Jesus loved, that is to say, following him/trusting in him/believing in him) we reveal in ourselves that which is at the heart of our creation already: that is, God/love. Hence, it is true that when we love, we come to abide in God and God in us. Not in the sense that we have an equal share in the creative/love generating process, only in the sense that what is fundamentally true of us all inwardly, has been allowed to become manifest in us outwardly.

This is semantics I am sure, but it is a semantic shift that is also paradigmatic. For as long as we understand ourselves to be somehow creating/generating love within ourselves we risk falling into idolatry where we place ourselves as an equal 'eternal' partner in the relationship we have with God(or at least as eternal as God). We also put the onus on ourselves to be 'the loving ones' so that when we fail to love as Jesus loved, it is our fault, our failure, our weakness. This is the fuel for guilt and hopelessness (which was the main concern of my first post.

To avoid this idolatry (and the accompanying pitfalls), I suggest what is required is to approach love as truly 'other' while still confessing it as the very heart of our createdness and indeed our true humanity. This is to say, love is 'truly other' but is also wholly and intimately knowable. This 'knowing' of love is the participating in/revealing in ourselves and to others/atonement that all life is journeying towards and all life is created for. This 'knowing' is a gift not an achievement; grace not work.

Our experience and the Biblical witness suggests that while we are created for love, we continue to live in contradiction of that created truth. Thus we live as though love were an option among many, or as if love, though attainable, is beyond us most of the time. To trust that God (the source and power of life, among other things) is love, is to affirm that at the most fundamental level of creaturely existence, love is. Love then, is not beyond us, but the very truth of us. To trust in love is to trust in the truth.

Of course it follows that grace/faith without an expression in your life as love towards others is dead/empty/noise. But what is crucial in all this for me, is that God is the object of my striving. Not only the love of God for me in some abstract sense, but the love of God for me, and others, expressed in and through my life in concrete ways. Thus the love that is God's gift of creation, is made 'mine' insofar as it is revealed/known through me.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How the Love of God Avoids Debilitating Guilt

I figure it is about time I add some content to my blog.

I have had a number of people express to me in recent weeks the unreasonableness of Christ's call on our lives. I preached recently on Luke chapter 6 and have been reflecting on it since. "Love your enemies" is simply too hard for your average, non-saintly Christian. People are asking for a loophole or escape clause from the tough teachings of Jesus.

The problem I find, is that people (including myself most of the time) are expecting that we will have the capacity to love as God loves; that we are called to a love that is wholly unattainable for mortal human beings. However, what we find in the Biblical witness is a call first and foremost to faith.

What I realise for the first time (others have no doubt known this for centuries) is that it is precisely because what is revealed to us as unreasonable is the very love of God, that we too can love in this way.

Let me explain what I mean. God's very nature, as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is love. And not just any love, but agapeic love: the love that is gratuitous, unconditional and self-giving. This is the love which necessarily loves enemies, does good to those who hate, blesses those who curse and prays for those who abuse (Luke 6:27-28).

What appears to be a 'new Law' of love; and one unachievable by most, is in fact simply a further affirmation of the God of life. God is all this and more, and loves in this way, all of the time (even when we are judged by God it is within this revealed mode of grace). What this means, is that while we may look at those we detest and struggle to love them and forgive them, and inevitably feel guilty for our inability to do so, God is already loving them with grace and forgiveness. God can do no other.

If we can relinquish the need to generate this love for ourselves, and instead trust (have faith in) the God of love already present and active, then, and only then, will we bear the fruit of that love in ourselves. When we encounter the unlovable, it is not our Christian responsibility to make ourselves love beyond human capacity, for if we could love in that way there would be no need for God, it is our Christian confession that God is love and therefore what we find impossible is already a reality in God.

In this way, the love Christians bear is not our love reflecting the love of God in Jesus, but the love of God manifest in us as we give ourselves away in faith. God is already loving the world, we are called to participate through faith in that love. This may seem only a simple semantic shift, but what occurs in this shift is an orientation away from our limitations and fears towards the one from whom all life, and love, proceeds.

I don't know if this is a helpful shift for others, but for me it has been a liberating one, freeing me to offer myself boldly in faith.

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