“… if I do not have love, I am nothing.” (Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth)
A person can love another to the extent that they have been loved. No. That’s not quite right. I think this is better stated as: A person can love another to the extend that they are being loved. Not past tense. Love is not something that can be known as a past reality. It’s a present perfect, and ongoing emanation of God toward us, like a river that never dries up. The degree to which someone knows love is the degree to which they can love. Or to personalize Paul’s point, “If I do not possess love in my inner being as an ongoing knowledge that I am loved and am living in love alongside others, I am nothing.”
Victor Hugo stated, “The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved.” The giving and receiving of love lies at the core of what it means to be human. We search for it. We yearn for it. We hope for it. Just turn on the radio and listen to the top 40 hits. While in most cases, we are “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the old country song confesses, the reality is that we are all “looking for love.”
One of the things that I find interesting about the typical way that we commonly talk about spiritual growth and discipleship in the church is that the topic of love, that “touchy feely” experience of God’s emanation toward us, is something that we teach to children, “emotional” twenty-somethings, and new Christians. However, Christian maturity means that we outgrow the need for such basic things as God’s love. We assume that the experience of God’s love is like spiritual milk, but as one grows in Christ spiritual meat means that we grow out of the need to talk about God’s love, acceptance, and grace.
On my journey with God over the last three decades, I have found myself being led back to reconsider God’s love for me. The first few times this happened I got frustrated with myself because I assumed that I should have moved beyond such basics. After all, I had dealt with God’s love and grace in my early stages of Christian discipleship. But every time I came back to a fresh touch of God’s love, I realized how much I was shocked by the unexpected unveiling of God’s touch. I began to see that I’m only loved to the extend that God’s love astonishes and astounds me. Otherwise, my thoughts about God are merely a compilation of my best and most godly facts about God.
This means that a disciple of Christ cannot outgrow the need to live in God’s love. There is no higher plane of discipleship than receiving the hug of God.
If God is love (1 John 4:8), then everything about our walk with the Father-Son-Spirit is rooted in and flows out of a knowledge and experience of that love. To try to move beyond it is like telling a basketball player that his development will move him to the point that he will no longer need to do anything with a basketball. He will develop the ability to dribble, pass, and shoot the ball without actually having to touch a physical ball because the game will be so deeply woven into his mind. The actual experience of the ball is no longer required. As a result, the game becomes excarnate, a gnostic experience that leads one to a higher level of disembodied reality.
Too often, we imagine Christian growth that is more excarnate than incarnate. Christian maturity is a mental, disembodied thought process that does not have much to do with our senses, our feelings, or our experiences. God’s love becomes a fact that we can state and talk about in our Bible studies, but we don’t actually know it in a participatory way.
Just as playing basketball means doing something with an actual ball, so too following Christ means living in the actual experience of God’s love for us. If there is no ball, there is no game. If there is no love, then we are not actually following Christ.
CC Image • Courtesy of of Farid Iqbal Ibrahim on Flickr