‘My purposes are not for my comfort, or yours. My purposes are always and only an expression of love. I purpose to work life out of death, to bring freedom out of brokenness and turn darkness into light. What you see as chaos, I see as fractal. All things must unfold, even though it puts all those I love in the midst of a world of horrible tragedies — even the one closest to me (Jesus)‘ The God figure in the amazing novel The Shack.
As it is Valentines Day today, many people around the world are celebrating the feelings of love — the butterflies, the gifts, the romance, the pleasures of kisses, hand-holding and sex, the happiness that comes from being needed and taken care of. On this day I am celebrating what true love is. In order to do that I have to dig really deep into my experiences and still won’t have a good enough definition. But the book The Shack really helped me to get closer to it.
In this novel a father loses his daughter to a brutal murder by an utterly demented criminal. He thus loses his ability to trust God and the age-old question of ‘why would God, if He loves us so much, allow such tremendous suffering’ makes the father cold inside and unable to live with the guilt of leaving his daughter alone for the few minutes it took for her to be kidnapped. Now this is a powerful book, which I really recommend anyone reads, because it is based on a true story. This story also involves a description of the father’s encounter with God, which is so visceral, and much of what the God figure says in this book really hits home in my heart.
I think, while we can all fathom living without God, one aspect of Him that we cannot escape is love — we cannot run away from our need to experience and have love. This is a beautiful thing — that within the independence that God gives us, He leaves us with one thing, and that is love, and that is the most powerful thing.
So WHAT IS LOVE? Well, to define it I think we have to know a bit more about the heart of God and His purpose for us. Because ultimately love comes from Him. So we need to ask a few questions.
(1) If God loves us, why does he leave us to suffer in this dark world?
Suffering comes from our choices not God’s. God’s purpose for us is to enjoy His creation and a fruitful relationship with Him. But because He is perfectly loving, He cannot force us to love Him because that would not be love. Love can only exist if both parties independently choose to love each other. The greatest love comes from a choice to love despite everything else. I have experienced the greatest freedom in life to do what I want, to go where I want and to love who I want. As a result I have done some atrocious things, I have had damaging relationships and I have torn myself apart by my choices. I have brought suffering onto myself, because I have tried to walk on water and have everything I wanted without the God who gives us everything. I have never felt Him force me to love Him. Though I grew up Catholic I did my own investigations, rebelled and questioned and doubted — so, so, so, so much, to the point where some non-believers would not have done some of the terrible things I have done. And I was able to do this because I had the freedom to do it, and I still have the freedom to do whatever I want. But to what ends? How long will we all make the choice to be selfish, to hurt others, to enslave others, to love others only because of what we can gain? Isn’t it not completely clear that suffering is caused by ourselves and not God? The greatest thing about my suffering is that it has brought me back to the heart of God, where there is no suffering and where love is so absolutely pure and everlasting. He has used every bit of difficulty and suffering in my life brought on by myself and others to the greater good, a big part of which is simply to invite me back into His presence, to experience life together with Him.
‘Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ‘cuz people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.‘ The Shack
(2) How could God’s love be freeing if He has all of these rules for us to follow?
One great truth I have learnt over the last year is that the commandments are not for us to follow. God hates rules. Rules and laws are there to give us certainty but God is a God of uncertainty and risk — after all, what is faith if everything is certain? The purpose of the ten commandments was not to make us righteous by following these rules — forcing ourselves to love our neighbour, to have only one God, to not lie. These things are most utterly IMPOSSIBLE! I have thrown my hands up in surrender to trying to obey these commandments. Not possible. At all. You know why? Because these commandments were put in place to frustrate us. To show us, via our own experience of failure in keeping them — because God knows we LOVE to learn by our own mistakes — that we cannot be righteous by our own effort. We cannot follow rules by our own effort. We cannot love purely by our own effort. Actually righteousness, which is absolutely necessary in order to love purely, comes from God and can only be achieved by being in close relationship with Him and allowing Him to live in us and live out righteousness through us. That is, to live together with you to a higher peak of love and enjoyment, to a point where you see through His eyes that everyone is precious and that everything around you is a gift, as is life. Truly, truly real, pure, unconditional love has NO rules and is the epitome of absolute freedom.
‘I want you to give up trying to be righteous on your own. [The commandments] are a mirror to reveal just how filthy your face gets when you live independently. But can you clean your face with the same mirror that shows you how dirty you are? There is no mercy or grace in rules, not even for one mistake. That’s why Jesus fulfilled all of it for you–so that it no longer has jurisdiction over you. And that Law that once contained impossible demands–Thou Shall Not…–actually becomes a promise I fulfil in you.‘ The Shack
(3) How can I love if I really am not sure about what it means?
Love and faith require uncertainty. In this world people hold onto things like outward appearance, career, popularity, and experience in order to give themselves certainty in love. After all, it is easier to love someone who is better looking right? Because at least on the days when you find it hard to love him, you can at least love the way he looks. Same goes for his career and popularity. People look for these superficial things when trying to find love because they want that love to be certain, but love by nature is uncertain. You are most definitely going to get annoyed, frustrated and turned off by any person you love. Nobody can love at 100% 24/7. So what should it be based on if not these certain things? Well we come back to the fact that love is a choice. We have to choose to love others as God chooses to love us despite how horrible we are to Him who created us. Choosing to love is like committing yourself to extreme pain because it is only in the depths of love that you find the most profound despair. But we have to be prepared, as Jesus was when He gave His life, to accept all costs of loving others, even when you don’t even yet know what those costs are. Love is uncertain but faithful regardless.
(4) Why can’t I love without all the resulting expectations and responsibilities?
‘There is an expectancy within our relationship. When we see each other or are apart, there is expectancy of being together, of laughing and talking. That expectancy has no concrete definition; it is alive and dynamic and everything that emerges from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else. But what happens if I change that ‘expectancy’ to an ‘expectation’ — spoken or unspoken? Suddenly, law has entered our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements. It is no longer about you and me, but about what friends are supposed to do, or the responsibilities of a good friend.‘ The Shack
This quote says it all, I need not say much more except that we naturally turn expectancy into expectations, because of selfish needs. But love is not supposed to bring with it expectations, quite the opposite, it is supposed to remove all expectations and responsibilities and create an atmosphere of comfort, acceptance and nourishment. Yes because God is perfectly just He will judge our lives at the end of our time on earth but because He is perfectly loving, He gives us our entire life on earth as a chance to repent and turn to Him because He really wants us to experience the fullness of His love. He has no expectations for us to serve or love Him, but He is expectant… sitting there waiting for us to come back to Him. Oh how He loves us.
So God’s love is freedom to the greatest extent. It is the experience of joy to the highest peak. All other experiences of love, without Him, are mere shadows of the vast, unending and pure love God has in store for us. Dig deep and see what you find in the heart of God.
And do read The Shack!!!!