In faith terms, ‘God’s Love’ has become a popular phrase. We’re assumed to understand it. But would the average non-church-goer, with no knowledge of Scriptures or of Christian teaching, have any idea?
At Scargill, I suggested in an earlier blogpost, we experience ‘God’s love’ in action, modelled by the hospitable Scargill Community. In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 14) Jesus was at a Pharisee’s house, and told a story which ends ‘when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, … ’ In other words, an inclusive invitation to those outside the Pharisee’s own friendship group. At present, our church is exploring using our time for God. And to demonstrate God’s Love, we’re about to move outside the walls of the church (just for an afternoon), by offering hospitality to our local community.
The locals, invited to an ‘Everybody’s Picnic’ next Sunday, may not read what we do as God’s love: but they may enjoy our gesture of love/hospitality/friendship. And think about the motivation.
So how does God’s love differ from the ordinary, everyday, human kind?
We have a new grandson. He’s now almost 3 weeks old. We visited a couple of days ago. When I walked into the room where he was sleeping, I felt overwhelmed with that non-
This mirrors a part of God’s love - but it’s not all of it.
I’ve just read a light novel, a romance with a mystery at its heart. ‘But do you still love him?’ one character asked another. This reminded me how loosely we use the word love. After serial betrayals, did the main character ‘still love’ her husband? Certainly the old attractions were there - his appearance, his lifestyle, the memories … Did she need him? Did she want to continue to be made to feel good, to be excited by him, to continue to forgive while worrying she’d been cheated on again? To be controlled by her emotions towards him? Was that love, and is love a feeling?
Public exams results came out this month. Parents want the best for their children. But they may mistake ‘the best’ for prestige. Top grades in academic, music, or sport activities, even all three? There is a prestige in simply having children - the owning of others, the expected payback of their pleasing by becoming people who can be admired… high earners, beautiful people. ‘I control you, you give me credit, others will admire me. I love you.’ This not God’s kind of love: though sometimes someone will imagine God thinks like those parents.
The words aren’t only inadequate, they can be inaccurate. Our love for our children, our community, our fellow believers, even when it’s outward looking, with no thought of payback, is a pale shadow of what we want to communicate by God's Love. Frustratingly, there’s no other word than ‘love’ we can use. With the four-letter word love in use for not mere decades but centuries to denote fuzzy feelings, control, having power over, ownership, desire to own or use for pleasure (the list is long), the nature of God’s love can only be defined by comparing lists. Write down all the human uses of Love, and then turn to
1 Corinthians 13. The Message modern language translation gives us a few useful phrases:
‘Love never gives up … Love cares for others more than for self … love doesn’t want what doesn’t it have … Love keeps going to the end …’
Jesus’s ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ is a pretty big commandment. It demonstrably encompasses ‘love’ to all the people who society would possibly prefer to do without. Exactly what he does in the Gospels: caring about the ones who ‘don’t contribute’, the ones who weren’t born here, the ones whose abilities are different and don’t appear to be useful to the economy…
We learn by studying Jesus’s life (not only his death and resurrection) that God’s Love appears to be opposite to what is usually understood by the four letters
In church we were asked to collect a leaflet showing all sorts of ways in which we could use our time for God within the church community. And to support that picnic event. Both are examples of the other kind love, the kind that gives and ignores receiving.
How might we, as writers, weave God’s kind of love into our work?
Clare, who writes as Mari Howard, lives in Oxford with her husband and 2 cats. Three grown children (and the grandchild now) all live in London, where she grew up. Her interests beyond writing and researching the background to her books are painting, gardening, the natural world, friends, and faith-based activities. She values belonging to ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and 'loves' going to Scargill for writers' weekends.