Monday, April 11, 2011

Love Is Not A Many Splendored Thing

Love is not some fairy tale, happily ever after, thing.  Love is messy.  Love is costly.  Love hurts.  The very word "love" has come to mean something rather cheap and something easily discarded but this is not love that comes from God.  The love that comes from God is neither naive nor aloof to the cost of loving, the pain of loving, and the mess that loving causes.

It seems that we are doing a grave disservice to our youth by the way our culture deals with this thing called "love."  From the media to the culture, we have chipped away at what love is in order to turn it into something it is not -- something alien and unfamiliar to the God of love.  This has served only to confuse and confound us about who we are and who God is.  In the end our love has come to have less and less in common with what Scripture says and God does.  The consequence of all of this is that we have tried to define God's love by the way we love one another -- instead of trying to love one another as God has loved us.

For us, perhaps, no where is this more true than when it comes to the love a parent has for a child.  Such love is never easy or neat or tidy or cheap.  It is always costly and it always leaves us with some pain.  Part of that pain may be that we cannot keep our children from the hurt and pain and danger of the world.  But a goodly share of that pain is simply the cost of loving.  Love is by nature sacrificial and sacrificial love is both contrary to our sinful nature and foreign to hearts laid cold and bare by sin and its terrible companion, death.

Love caused God to create mankind -- and God knew from before that creation the pain of the loss that awaited the noble creatures He had made in His image and likeness.  The fall was no surprise to the Creator and it would have been perfectly understandable for Him to foreknow and decide to forego the loving act of creation.  But love won out over the painful knowledge of exactly what awaited His creation.  The banishment from Eden was both punishment and love -- the painful love of God still loving a rebellious creation that thought and chose self over Him, independence over submission.

It was love that spoken of the promise to come.  Genesis 3:15 is both the promise of what the ages will unfold but it is also testament to all that love will do and everything that love will bear up for His lost creatures.  The history of Israel is the story of love given -- but it is too often unrequited.  Covenant and promise, deliverance and the land of promise, priestly presence and prophetic speech... they are all gift and love.  And what response did love receive?  Broken covenant and promise, complaint and exploitation of the gift, and corruption and rejection of temple and Word of God.

When love was incarnate it was the ultimate gift and still those who were His own, knew Him not.  Love was rejected and love was put on trial, crucified, killed, and buried.  Yet this was not some wild out of control event to which God could merely watch in horror -- the miracle of it all is that love was at work in this cruel and brutal story to forgive those who did not know what they had done, to redeem those who saw no need of such a Savior, and to restore those outside the family boundary.

Love is not a many splendored thing.  It is as hard as temptation, messy as sinners welcomed and righteous  turned away, and as clostly as the only innocent body broken and holy blood outpoured.  We Christians do a terrible disservice to the Passion of our Lord by forgetting or minimizing the cost and pain of love, the cost and pain love was willing to bear, and the freedom born of submission and servanthood.  No one is won over to Christ by hiding the pain and cost of God's love but many are surely lost because this love is discounted and made easy and cheap.

I do not mean to say that love is only pain -- for it is not.  But in order to make to promise and blessing, the path led through pain.  For Jesus.  For those who follow Him.  We do not believe in easy love or happily ever afters.  We beleive in love tested and tried upon the cross and even in death -- and found worthy.  This is the first love that loved us and this is the love that teaches our hearts and burns like a fire within us (by the power of the Spirit).  It is one of my favorite hymns and yet one of the hardest to sing -- the words insist that the singer remember what we seem quick to forget -- never was love, never was grief like Thine!

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;

But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.


ErnestO said...

Pastor Peters stated:

"We have tried to define God's love by the way we love one another -- instead of trying to love one another as God has loved us."

I confess your statement strikes me as the most succinct quote of kingdom thinking ever.I pray that all will come to love one another as God has loved us.

Anonymous said...

The Love of Christ is:
1) Self-sacrificing as demonstrated
on the cross of Calvary.
2) Forgiving as demonstrated in the
3) Unconditional as demonstrated in
the fact that He never stops
loving us even when we mess up.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: Of course love IS a many splendored thing, in spite of the fact that everything you wrote about love is unassailably true! The love our God shows us, especially that which our Lord Jesus poured out in His passion, is more many splendored than the finest multifaceted diamond on this earth, because He is that Jewel of great price. It is just that in the Kingdom of God, that which the world disposes of as garbage is many splendored, and that which the world considers “many splendored” is manure (Mist, Luther would say). I am not telling you anything you don’t know; you simply addressed a different aspect of the “love” conundrum. I, on the other hand, needed to rehabilitate one of my favorite songs from the fifties, which, in the movie, did not treat the matter entirely frivolously either – remember the blotch of red paint on the floor?

It is remarkable that, according to the Gospel of John, on the eve of our Lord’s supreme sacrifice (compared to the life He enjoyed with His Father and ours, His entire life on earth was suffering, therefore I needed a stronger term for Good Friday), He told His disciples (John 16:22), “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and NO ONE WILL TAKE YOUR JOY FROM YOU.” How more many splendored can you get!

The hymn is also many splendored; in fact more so than the song from the movie.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart