Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe in the God idea, not God Himself. ~Miguel de Unamuno
My friend, pastor Franc Ortega, suggested that trying to explain God’s nature is venturing where angels fear to tread. I’m starting to think he might be right…
Today, I want to venture into talking about God’s love, His essence, His nature. And I feel is so shallow, not even getting close to what I wanted to achieve.
We read in the Westminster Confession:
There is but one only, (a) living, and true God:(b) who is infinite in being and perfection,(c) a most pure spirit,(d) invisible,(e) without body parts,(f) or passions,(g) immutable,(h) immense,(i) eternal,(k) incomprehensible,(l) almighty,(m) most wise,(n) most holy,(o) most free,(p) most absolute,(q) working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will…”
I can see in this a small glimmer of what we read in Romans 8 this morning:
…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. … And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes … in accordance with God’s will.
…And we know that in all this, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. …
If God is for us, who can be against us? …will He not also… graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?… Who is He that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died… is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God…
So, what is God’s love?
We all know the passage of 1 Corinthians 13… what Love is… But, I want us each to have a personal experience with it today.
You will each find in your bulletin, a little yellow card. As you will notice, there are blanks in it (if the side facing you is in Spanish, you can turn it over and find English on the other side). I want you to all put your name in the blank. For example: Beth is Patient; Beth is kind.
So, let’s do this together then:
________________ is patient;
________________ is kind;
________________ is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
________________ does not insist on her/his own way;
________________ is not irritable or resentful;
________________ does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
________________ bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
________________ never ends.
Now… I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel a little like a hypocrite and liar.
I may strive to be those things, but that’s not my true nature. I may be able, when consciously trying, be some of those things, some of the time, but I cannot for the life of me live 24/7 in that state.
Many make the mistake when writing or speaking about God’s love of seeing it as amiable weakness, a good-natured indulgence: somehow reduced to sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotions. But if this were true, then God would be fickle, and every place in the Bible where it states that God is unchanging would be a lie.
I don’t think this is God’s essence. In a general sense, yes: God loves all of creation (the universe, the cosmos).
But, God’s love is more than this: it is pure, unadulterated love – a love that pulsates through death and life, that breaks through the path of angels, demons and powers, a love that is timeless, making the present and the future irrelevant, a love that is greater than any height, depth or anything else in creation. It doesn’t matter where we go or what we do, it can reach us at the ends of the earth.
Think of going to the mall with a group of friends, and stopping at the food hall to have lunch: one of you can ask for sushi, while another has vegetarian stir-fry and another one Indian cuisine or just a good ol’ hamburger and fries. Most us would like God to be like that.
Where I can come to with my requests or order for the day, and simply ask and get what I want.
But true love doesn’t work that way… not really…
Pure love is often harsh. Seemingly uncaring.
Parents call this “tough love”. We all have our experiences with tough love – whether on the giving end or the receiving end. And if on the receiving end, it sometimes takes us years to understand the “love” that was shown to us.
Jeremiah 31: 3 reminds us:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
And yet… God lets us choose whether or not we want to accept His love.
God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in Him. … There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
If I truly trusted in God, understood the magnitude of His presence and love, I would have no fear. I would have trust that His will is for my good.
Thankfully, God is not sitting there waiting for me to get my act together, God hasn’t washed his hands of me until I straighten up and stop making mistakes. No, God understands me fully and completely. His loving eyes look past my acts and look straight into my heart and mind, at my motivations, my fears, my uncertainties. God doesn’t get impatient with me.
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise, You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely, O Lord. …
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
I know that even failing just once, just one act of impatience or lack of kindness, makes me unworthy to stand before the power of this love. And yet God still loves me, because that is the very nature of his being. God is love.
Exodus 34: verses 6 and 7 teach us:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…
I know the definition of true love – and yet, I focus on MY problems and MY needs, I am self-seeking and rude to other people, easily angered when my plans don’t work out the way I wanted, holding a grudge against that person that I am sure rained on my parade – even if accidentally?
Where do I get the nerve to insist that God allow me into His presence carrying all of my personal baggage with me? I want God to let me contaminate His presence of pure love?
Jesus teaches us:
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Hate, anger, envy, bitterness and other negative feelings towards others hurt me more than what they affect the person towards whom they are directed.
Like my friend, I want God to prove His love for me by pulling me back from the brink of disaster, rather than accepting that He wants me to love myself enough not to walk over the edge.
God’s love doesn’t mean I get to walk through life totally unscathed. It means that I have a choice about how I will react to the injuries and scars.
It’s only when we understand the magnitude of God’s love – the purity & perfectness of this agape – that we can begin to understand our gospel reading today.
Matthew 13: 44-52
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
When I recognise the power of the love that God is, then I start to understand that I need to get rid of everything that is “me, me, me”, so that I can be filled completely with the purity of this perfect love. I will sell all I have just to have this one treasure.
I can’t make this decision for someone else – I don’t go out and buy the field or the fine pearls for anyone other than myself. What I have discovered is for me alone. I may tell others about it. I may share with others. But I can’t choose for anyone else.
1 John 4 tells us:
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Let’s go back to our yellow cards in your bulletin, and this time I want you to fill in the blank with your favourite name for God, whether that be Yahweh, the Almighty, Elohim, Creator, the Lord God, Jehovah, the Prince of Peace, as you feel closest:
Jehovah Jireh is patient;
Jehovah Rapha is kind;
Jehovah Nissi is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Jehovah Shammah does not insist on her/his own way;
Jehovah Raah is not irritable or resentful;
Jehovah Tsidkenu: does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
El Elohe Israel bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The Great I AM never ends.
When I understand the nature of God, the immensity of God’s love, the purity and perfection of the choice to love, it’s easier to understand my need to be emptied of myself and filled with God’s Spirit.
You may remember that I started this morning with a quote:
Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe in the God idea, not God Himself.
Seeing that God is perfect and pure love should cause anguish in my mind, uncertainty as to my ability to please God by my own naïve efforts, doubt as to whether I will ever be fully filled with God’s love that drives out all fears… it leads me to understand my guilt before God for my negative feelings and harbouring bitterness, my unworthiness, my failures … but if I believe that this is what God truly is, then I have to believe that God is able to transform me. It doesn’t depend on me… God has already done it. God is willing and able to overflow this love into me, if I am willing to say yes, I want to be emptied so that I might be filled.
I want His Spirit to help me in my weakness, to know that in all trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword that God works for the good of those who love Him in spite of it all.
I want to conquer all of these things, because I believe in God’s perfect love:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God…
Because that love lives inside of me; it IS me.