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

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.


  1. Certainly there are lots of Christians for whom guilt is debilitating. They seem to try to deal with it in two ways. Some try to justify the sin, saying it wasn't so bad after all, while others seem to wallow in guilt, and evein in their blogs have little "Sorry" widgets stuck all over the place, and if they don't have enough sins of their own they try to confess and feel guilty for other peoples' sins.

  2. Hmmm...for your next blog could I suggest you tackle the growing issue of the lack of clean public toilets. Just kidding brother. This is interesting and worthy stuff. Personally, I find the only way I could even come close to the Big Fella's love is to take a really big step back and give it the old "big picture" look. Only then can I put my enemies actions in perspective. By taking the personal out of it, it is easier to forgive. Otherwise I'd go mental as a teacher of Maths (plenty of hate in some of those rooms). Keep it up.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Phil. I tried to write a response, but I think I need to think about it more. I think, for me, the challenge is balancing the theological ideas and understanding with my daily reality. If I'm able to get my thoughts together I might write more. Food for thought, cheers.

  4. Pertinent stuff, so thanks Phil.

    I do struggle though to continue using the word 'God' because it implies separateness. Perhaps we love ultimately because we see God, others and ourselves as one?

    I don't tend to look at the practices suggested by Jesus as commands, but a kind of road map to discovering our own freedom through maturity of character. I suppose though that rebellious and stubborn types might need more forceful treatment from time to time. :o)

  5. Helpful, but not sure it's the full story. Didn't Jesus tell his followers that they would do the stuff he did and more? We too can be sons and daughters of God, loving as he loves. By all means, this requires that we have faith, that we act believing it to be so and that it is the Spirit of God in us that will enable or bring to fruition our love. It's a transforming experience - each of us a work in progress.

  6. I'm not trying to suggest that we aren't to love as Jesus loved - that is his commandment to us. What I am suggesting is that 'to love as Jesus loves' we need to abide in God as he abides in God. I am suggesting a corrective to the notion that we cannot begin to love as Jesus loves or taught us to love. I think we can, but only as we allow the love of God to shine through us. In this way it is not 'our love' but God's love.

  7. Hooray. And Yes. That was all I was going to say but....only a simple semantic shift, well yes, but that's like saying it was only a simple crucifiction. God's beautiful way of making the simple so unbearably profound is so him - so easy to miss, and so amazing to really see. Yes about the relinquishing the need to generate love - impossible, also, not only is it not our christian responsibility to make ourselves love beyond human capacity, it is our responsibility to make God's love visible to the world. To us and then through us. Human love is not even nearly enough. Hmmmmm...more to come I hope.


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