I’ve been re-reading George MacDonald’s A Curate’s Awakening, and I’d like to type up all the great thoughts in it, but alas, time won’t permit. Today I’ll share a prayer for those feeling the extremes of pain or “dull,” (which is surely all of us at some time or another). Here, Polwarth, the crooked-bodied and pure-hearted dwarf prays for Leopold, the dying murderer who in his misery wants to feel something for God but finds himself numb.
“O Lord Jesus, be near when it seems that our Father has forsaken us. Even you, who were mighty in death, needed the presence of your Father to make you able to endure. Do not forget us, the work of your hands, the labor of your heart and spirit. Ah, Lord! Ww know you will never leave us. You can do nothing else but care for us, for whether we be glad or sorry, slow of heart or full of faith, all the same we are the children of your Father. Give us repentance and humility and love and faith that we may indeed become the children of your Father who is in heaven.” George MacDonald.
It is REALLY hard to write the introduction to a [relatively short] Bible study on love. I am doing edits now and went back to this today. I’d love to know your thoughts. What do you hear people say about love? What do you think about some of these internet discoveries I made regarding the contemporary understanding of love? Please love me by giving me your thoughts:-)!
Philosophers, poets, moviemakers, and ordinary people have searched to understand and explain love since the beginning of time. A Google search on “studies of love 2012” reveals that the contemporary world thinks of love almost exclusively in terms of romantic or sexual love, although some studies focus on the brain’s response to a mother’s love or supportive relationships. Following current evolutionary science, it is popular to talk about love as a “primitive human instinct.” One MIT professor has determined that romantic love is best understood in the context of economic resources.
In the midst of such cultural conversation, we must ask, to quote Shakespeare out of context, “Is there an ‘ever-fixed mark’ of love?” Is it possible to understand love, and more importantly, is it possible to live love in a world seemingly desperate for it?
The Apostle Paul says it is not only possible; it is essential. In 1 Corinthians 13, often called the “love chapter,” Paul chides the Corinthians for their lack of love by laying out a long description. Paul begins with what would have seemed a bold claim: “without love, I am nothing” (v.2) and concludes with a confident assertion, “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v.13, NIV). Sandwiched in between these two statements is a long definition of love in about fourteen parts, depending on how you count. Every time I hear this passage read at a wedding, I wonder if the couple truly believes they will love like this (I know I did!). I’m lost at love with the requirements of “patient and kind” (v. 4), but I’m guessing everyone would admit they sometimes “insist on [their] own way” (v.5) And as nice as it sounds to say love “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things,” (I Cor.13:7), who can really do this?
There is only one answer, the subject of our study and object of our worship – God. God can love like this, does love like this, and amazingly, empowers us by his grace to love like this. Indeed, without love we are nothing, but with God’s love, as we shall see in this study, we become something.
As I wrap up a chapter for the new Bible study on loving enemies, I am thinking again about how stories help in the process of reconciliation. When we share stories in community helps us forgive our enemies and embrace “strangers.” Whose story might you need to listen to today?
In the new heaven and new earth, every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group will join together to sing the praises of our Creator and Redeemer. The concept sounds great, but what it means is that one day we will worship with our worst enemies, and we will work side by side with people who wronged us or whom we wronged while living on this earth. Miroslav Volf, writing about the impetus for remembering wrongs for the ultimate hope of reconciliation, writes:
…the irreversibility of time will not chisel away the wrongs we have suffered into the unchangeable reality of our past, the evildoer will not ultimately triumph over the victim, and suffering will not have the final word; God will expose the truth about wrongs, condemn each evil doer and redeem both the repentant perpetrator and their victims, thus reconciling them to God and to each other.
(The End of Memory)
If we are going to live in the forever-kingdom reconciled with those we have harmed and those who have harmed us, we need to open ourselves to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation in this world. What does it mean to begin now to live forgiveness and love of people who are different from us? We usually recognize our differences with other people pretty easily. Seeing the common core we have as created, sinful, and redeemed humans is sometimes a little harder. Knowing one another’s stories opens our eyes to how similar our hearts are to people we differ deeply with on the surface.
“When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him.” Luke 15:20
“The father “saw” his son. There is a great deal in that word, “saw.” He saw who it was; saw where he had come from; saw the swineherd’s dress; saw the filth upon his hands and feet; saw his rags; saw his penitent look; saw what he had been; saw what he was; and saw what he would soon be. “His father saw him.” God has a way of seeing men and women that you and I cannot understand. He sees right through us at a glance, as if we were made of glass; He sees all our past, present and future.
“When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him.” It was not with icy eyes that the father looked on his returning son. Love leaped into them, and as he beheld him, he “had compassion on him”; that is, he felt for him. There was no anger in his heart toward his son; he had nothing but pity for his poor boy, who had got into such a pitiable condition. It was true that it was all his own fault, but that did not come before his father’s mind. It was the state that he was in, his poverty, his degradation, that pale face of his so wan with hunger, that touched his father to the quick. And God has compassion on the woes and miseries of men. They may have brought their troubles on themselves, and they have indeed done so; but nevertheless God has compassion upon them. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.” Charles Spurgeon,
For reflection: When I read this story and Spurgeon’s remarks, I am challenged on ‘what I see’? I’m not sure I take much time to look. Here’s an exercise for us all to try:
1. Take time to look at someone today — a family member, a co-worker, a store clerk. What do you see? What more can you see if you look through the lens of the gospel?
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