Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Loving You

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And this is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3.1)

Not Easy for Mortals

A quarter-century hasn’t diminished the tingles set off by the late Minnie Riperton’s classic, “Lovin’ You”. Before she stakes full ownership of the ballad with her incomparable portamento off high F#—which renders the visceral sensation of falling in love unlike any song I know—her besotted opening line still gives me the shivers: “Lovin’ you is easy ‘cause you’re beautiful.” With most love songs, it’s assumed “you” means “the beloved.” But Riperton’s delivery is so direct the pretense vanishes. We are “you.” Her unabashed declaration of love is a bit off-putting at first. We know loving us isn’t easy. We’re not as beautiful as she says. Yet she persists. The candor of her lyrics and the daydreams in her “la-la-la-la-la’s” exploding in those enraptured plummets persuade us we are beautiful. Riperton’s angelic persona assures us love that’s not easy for mortals somehow comes easily to her. She finds beauty in us that others, even we, don’t see. She loves us because she can. By the song’s end, the dissonance between what she says of us and how we see ourselves no longer exists. The shivers are gone as we bask in love’s warm light.

Granted, the sensual overtones in Riperton’s recording make it an imperfect comparison to God’s love. Yet my response to it (which may be unique; you may consider it just another love song) equates with how I perceive God’s love. Everything I read in Scripture and have personally experienced convinces me it’s bold, direct, and intuitive, completely uncompromised by mortal standards and inhibitions. His love goes beyond what’s “not easy.” It achieves the impossible. It transcends discerning our hidden beauty by embracing ugliness we’d prefer to conceal. No rational logic can explain this, which actually simplifies things so we can accept it without cognitively understanding it. God loves us because He can. Why He loves us will forever be a mystery. Science may slowly unravel our “modern” cosmology by pinning natural causes and effects on phenomena we attribute to the divine. But when all is said and done, God’s love will inexplicably persist. In Jeremiah 31.3, He declares, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” God’s love is. And the most mysterious aspect of His love is that we somehow know it is without knowing why or how it is. God loves us.

The Enigma

The enigma of God’s love supersedes mere inability to explain it. The mystery spills over into how it’s conveyed to us. Its knowledge is transmitted via our lack of knowledge, its fullness revealed in our deficits. Paul captures these contradictions in Ephesians 3.17-19: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Grasping the reality of God’s love comes by realizing it exceeds our grasp. Its substance resides in its ephemeral nature. Its foundation is laid in abstraction. Hence, our assurance we are loved is rooted in ineffable, instinctive awareness of God and His love.

The deeper we’re pulled into the eddy of God’s love, the more perplexed we become. Our senses sharpen to its power and presence, yet our minds wonder why, of all things, God chose to withhold from us the faculties to verify His love and existence. Why are the very things we should know without a scintilla of doubt impossible to prove? Doesn’t that prove God does not love us? Is that not the epitome of cruelty—hatred even? First John 3.1 answers these questions with breathtaking clarity: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And this is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” Once we yield our nervous curiosity to the calm assurance of God’s love, nothing—no one, no theory, no “evidence”—can shake our faith in it. John says anyone who contests our belief God loves us is simply misinformed. They don’t know us because they don’t know God.

We Know Better

We respect others’ right to their opinions. For all they know, God doesn’t exist. Or He’s not a god of love. Or He loves some and not others. Or He loves men more than women. Or He favors one race over another. Or He finds lesbian, gay, transgendered, and bisexual people unlovable. Or He cares about Christians, but not Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, agnostics and atheists. For all they know, any or all of the above is true. But we know better. Why? God lavished His love on us, extinguishing every doubt we are His. We can’t prove why and how we know it’s true. Yet there’s special grace in our inability to rationally explain God’s love and acceptance. Being unable to articulate it disqualifies us from debating it. God loves us. We belong to Him. No question about it.

I pray all of us, from the most seasoned to the newest believer, from the most mainstream Christians to those shoved to the farthest fringes, will never doubt God’s love. No, loving us isn’t always easy, because we’re not always beautiful. We know that. But we can’t ever forget God’s love defies everything we know. Romans 5.8 tells us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners—while we part of that “for all they know” crowd, before we knew God’s love existed—He loved us. Now that we know better, why ever would we doubt it or allow uninformed opinions to shake our confidence in what we know? God loves us. God loves you.

We don’t understand it, can’t explain it, will never be able to explain it. But we know it’s true—God loves us.

Postscript: No Greater Love

If “Lovin’ You” reflects love’s power to look beyond our ugliness because it can, this song mirrors our astonishment at God’s persistent love: “Your love is forever.” Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ perform “No Greater Love”.


claire said...

Thank you for this post, Tim.

I believe in Godde's extravagant love. One of my favorite quotes ever is Eph 3:17-19. I used it recently in a short article to introduce the theme of a weekend in which I will participate.

Ignatian spirituality has taught me that I am a 'beloved sinner.' Over the years, I have come to believe that the world will change if we each find a way of passing on Godde's message of her unlimited, extravagant love for everyone of us.

Once I know this deep down, to the marrow of my being, that I a loved in spite of all that I may have done, I can start loving in an unlimited manner as well.

So exciting!

Thank you for the song 'Lovin' You' as well.

Tim said...

So exciting, indeed, Claire!

Sometimes in my quiet time, I try to let go of everything and allow God's love to wash over me. To know He loves me--oh, how marvelous. Tears flow, my heart bursts, and my soul fills with joy.

Love so great must be shared! Not talked about, but actually shared, passed along to others.

Extravagance, yes. Thank God for His love!