October 17, 2017

Love Makes Us

“God, loving what is not yet and putting faith in us, continually begets us, since love is what begets.” — Carlo Carretto

If love is what makes us, then we all, at least in the infinite mind of God, are fully made because God so loved the world. Why then do we often feel undone, incomplete, empty and unfinished? Why do we struggle to perceive God’s love and also to demonstrate it to others? Aren’t Christians supposed to have that issue resolved – to be assured of his love – to have that God-shaped vacuum in us fully filled, satiated, overflowing, satisfied and also to be channels of love for his people?

As a young girl growing up in the midst of alcoholism, divorce and depression, I launched into life seeking completion in relationships, learning, work and even a newly minted relationship with Christ. At that point, Jesus was in a nice, neat little category by himself, just like everything else. It’s the way I coped with an unhappy home life – keeping it all separate. I had a box on my shelf for everything, including my relationship with God. In each box were my ideas about how to succeed – work hard and save money, study much and go to college, don’t rock the boat at home and hope for one sober, happy evening, read my Bible and try to be perfect.

That changed in 1985 as I lay in bed ready to die from depression. I had failed at doing my best to never fail. Deep inside I heard him whisper, “I love you.” That revelation was pivotal. I’d read it in my Bible and heard it from the pulpit. It wasn’t new information, but somehow it was newly perceived. That knowledge touched a part of me that had never been touched before and was an absolute gift from the Holy Spirit. From that day forward I quit searching anywhere else but in Christ for completion. I knew in my knower that it was with him. I still know it.

Yet, at times I feel so much need that it baffles me. Without getting overly theological (I am no theologian), I offer some observations. The scientists out there may turn away in frustration since we aren’t talking about results that can be consistently reproduced. We are unique people with unique circumstances and we have God to thank for that, though a lot of Christians (scientists or not) tend to approach life with God as a science. If I tithe, I’ll always have what I need. If I go to a Bible college and meet my spouse, I’ll never get a divorce. If I have a quiet time, my day will go smoothly. If I never sin, I’ll never get sick (at least not until I’m old.) I won’t even touch list of things we apply to childrearing. I’ve done them … or many of them. Sometimes God just chooses to mess up our little ideas about how things work for reasons only he knows.

The bottom line is that he is mysterious and he is sovereign. He doesn’t follow our formulas for anything, including his love. He doesn’t follow our timetables for when we desire to have a complete understanding of it. He doesn’t follow our expectations for how he will reveal or express it. He doesn’t respect whatever gauges we use to measure how loved or complete we feel. We simply are – loved, that is. We can believe it or not believe it.

As frustrating at times as my own unbelief is, I am finding that God is unwavering and patient with me through it because I am continually being begotten. My soul is still in the process of being acquired.

In January I started taking a class in New Testament Greek. Week by week we are studying new verb tenses, something I studied in English so long ago. Back then, I disliked it and saw only mechanics. Now I am enjoying the beauty of precise vocabulary and grammar. (Please don’t quiz me though. My recently-turned-fifty brain will disappoint.) That’s why I consulted Pastor Paul, my Greek teacher, to help me understand something. Referring to Romans 5:9,10, there is an aspect of our salvation (reconciliation with God) that is completed by Christ’s death. Another aspect (such as our being made whole) is an ongoing action made possible by his resurrected life. The tenses for the verb ‘reconcile’ in these two verses indicate an action that was done once and completed. The tense for the verb ‘save’ indicates an ongoing action. At least, it is ongoing until it will be completed in the future. As it applies to us now, it is ongoing. We are still being saved and still being made whole. Furthermore, both verbs are passive, so we are not the doers, but the objects of reconciliation and salvation. God begets and completes us. He begets and completes these things in us.

John speaks of this eloquently.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him” (I John 4:9-17).

I think Carlo Carretto had it right. If God, being love, is what makes us, then we all, at least in the infinite, eternal mind of God, are fully made because God is love and he so loved the world. He is not bound by time and space as we are. He is everywhere at all times – in eternity past when he conceived us, in time and space where we live and struggle as he continues to beget and perfect us – and in eternity future where we are already begotten and completed. His perception spans and encompasses our finite beginning and our eternal future with complete knowledge and complete execution of his will toward us. What we will be … we already are to him

On the other hand, our perception is limited to the dimensions we can experience in flesh and blood. Even with spirits awakened by confession of faith in Christ and inhabited by the Holy Spirit, our potential to perceive spiritually is often skewed by a thousand things. To the extent we fail to perceive love, we also perceive ourselves as unfinished and we exhibit ourselves as such. Behavior matches perception in pettiness, smallness and incomplete love. We also rub shoulders with others perceiving and exhibiting themselves incompletely as well.

For many years I was in a standoff with someone very close to me. She didn’t understand a relationship that I continued with another person who had hurt her. She perceived it as disrespect for her. She perceived it as me not loving her. It took me a long time discover this underlying cause for all our trouble. Nothing changed in my love for her, but because I could address a misunderstanding, her perception changed.

Some of our perceptors are broken and the brokenness manifests itself as we relate to others and as we relate to God. How it must grieve him to love us so much and us not see it, feel it or know it. We need help to understand. We need the picture that transcends words. It’s why Christ came.

Brennan Manning said, “Jesus is the human face of God.” God sent him to be his human face, his human hands, arms, feet, body. Jesus’ touch is the human touch of God, his voice the human voice of him. He became flesh and lived among us, yet we still misperceive God … and his love. Once when Jesus stood talking with his disciples, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8,9).

That occurred at a time when God walked among his people. He talked to them and touched them and washed their feet and fished with them and ate with them. It took time for them to understand that he was God. It took his dying for them to understand his love. It takes us living with him through all our days to fully perceive his love.

Peter famously denied Jesus three times in the hours before his crucifixion. Feeling like a worm, he couldn’t help but doubt his love for Christ. Yet, the beach scene after Christ’s resurrection seemed as much about Christ reiterating his love for Peter as it was about proving to Peter his love for Christ. All he could think about was how he’d failed his Lord and we humans seem always to think our failures are the end of love. In this we make ourselves the subjects, the ones who are supposed to love and then are shocked and disappointed by our failures. We are despondent. We forget that in God’s economy, he is the subject and we are the objects. He loved us. He loves us.

Ultimately, in being loved and being completed by love, we are equipped to love. Yet, we try to force the issue. We take a deep breath, grit our teeth and screw up some determination. We will love our difficult neighbor, or spouse, or child or boss if it kills us. Sometimes it nearly does. I may get some disagreement here, but I think we try loving too hard. It doesn’t feel very good going out and the person receiving it isn’t all that convinced. It’s not at all where we should concentrate our attention.

I remember a woman I met as a young girl. I didn’t know Christ yet, but a friend had invited me to church camp. Mrs. Martin was the cabin leader who herded me, and a passel of other adolescent girls, through the week’s activities. I remember nothing of what we did except that every night, she read to us with a flashlight from the book of Ruth. It could be argued that her time spent with us was a loving act (and there are times when loving acts need to be intentional), but that is not what impressed me. As I listened to her voice I sensed a communion – not between her and her little girl listeners, but between her and God. He loved her and she loved him back. And I was seeing the possibility for myself. I doubt she was conscious of the effect that her abiding in him had on me, but it was my first glimpse God’s love.

As we fix our eyes on Christ, his love continues to beget, both completeness in us and a dawning perception in others of his love for them. As John explained in the passage above, we become like Christ when we live in him. We will love like Christ as we live in his love. In a most mysterious, magical and unaware way, we become the human face of God to those around us. Our hands are his hands, our words his words and our touch his touch. And God, as we relax into him and love him first, will beget through us every son and daughter he already knows in eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Thank you, Lisa. As I read about your encounter with “Mrs. Martin,” I was reminded of my fourth grade teacher, a woman I will always remember as kind, giving, and helpful to a struggling young student (me). She also had the most perfect name, something I only recognized later in life. Her name was “Grace Near.” And that she was. Your post has helped me tonight to realize that Love is Near as well.

  2. I needed this. I will come back in the morning with a fresher mind and re-read. Out of skimming and reading the whole post this is what stuck out to me:

    “Some of our perceptors are broken and the brokenness manifests itself as we relate to others and as we relate to God”

    This truth is why I am so grateful that He is bigger than my whole stupid mess! Or yours. Or anyone’s.

    Unchanging. Unfailing. Who was and is and is to come.

    Thank you Lisa!

    • Thank you, Rebekah Grace. “He is bigger than my whole stupid mess!” I came to the same conclusion night before last as I was out for a walk, praying and wondering how God could possibly fix some of the broken things I see around me … and in me.

  3. JoanieD says:

    Your posts are always so beautiful, Lisa. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts for us. One of my favorite parts of what you wrote about Jesus is, “God sent him to be his human face, his human hands, arms, feet, body. Jesus’ touch is the human touch of God, his voice the human voice of him. He became flesh and lived among us, yet we still misperceive God … and his love.”

    Like the song says:

    “What the world needs now is love, sweet love
    It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
    What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
    No not just for some but for everyone.”

    (“What the World Needs Now Is Love” is a 1965 popular song with lyrics by Hal David and music composed by Burt Bacharach. First recorded and made popular by Jackie DeShannon.)

    We get so wrapped up in the daily-ness of life that we forget that God’s love is in us, around us, for us, sustaining us.

  4. Beautiful thoughts, Lisa. It’s wonderful that IM covers a broad spectrum of topics…the theological, the mystical, the romantic, the scholarly…Great reading to start the work day!

    • I second that; I’m glad the writers/thinkers are so different, so diversely gifted. Great work, Lisa, you’ve stated some elemental things here.

      GregR

  5. Lisa, I agree with the others as to how timely and valuable your message is. I find myself once again circling the pit of depression in my life right now and this has been a steadying force, lest I fall in.

    • I will pray for you, Ron. I have had a serious depression in the past and it occasionally wants to rear its ugly head. I don’t like it at all. Yet, it was the most valuable time of life for me in that it made me recognize my strong tendency to perform. What I need and what God wants is that I abandon control and fall into his love. Easier said than done … but he is always there to catch me/us.

  6. Thank you for this post. “All he could think about was how he’d failed his Lord and we humans seem always to think our failures are the end of love”. We focus too much on our successes and our failures. God wants to free us from the burden of self-referential living (and loving). It is a grace to know that his love for me and my love for him and others is ultimately not grounded in or contingent upon me but in “his great love for us”.

  7. Very nice post. The older I get, the more I realize how it’s the Mrs. Martin’s or others in our lives who simply showed us grace and love day in and day out that have the most positive impact. Much as I love and study doctrine, it’s those who put on the human face of God who are really the greatest.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    Lisa, thanks for telling us once again something that should be so obvious to followers of Christ. Yesterday I was reading from Romans 13 where Paul says “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

    I couldn’t help but think that all our discussions here about the place of the Law would take on new meaning if we would let this truth inform our understanding.

  9. Thanks for this beautiful reminder. I don’t hink we hear messages like yours nearly enough these days, and we are poorer for that. Thanks for sharing a little of the richness from the heart of what it really is all about.

  10. I once had a high school music teacher that taught us “Our goal is to put on a performance so moving that instead of giving a standing ovation, the audience quietly sits in awe”.

    Lisa, that is the way I feel when I hear your heart. Your posts do not generate hundreds of comments, I just sit at my computer reading in awe.

    • Your words bless me, Allen.

    • JoanieD says:

      Allen and Lisa…it does seem that the posts that get hundreds of comments are those more controversial ones discussing things like evolution, homosexuality, baptism, authortity within the Church. Who is going to argue that God loves us and wants us to know it? Not me! We need to be reminded over and over again about the things that Lisa writes here. These are THE most important things to know. This is the center of Christianity. This is where the Life and Love is, with Jesus.

      • Lisa is a most refreshing voice indeed. I have said it before, and I will continue to say it: I have never worked with a group of writers as talented and gifted and led by the Spirit as those who labor here at iMonk.

        My biggest job is to not get in their way…

  11. Lisa,
    Thank you so much. I really needed to hear this – I’m feeling like a total failure today because of a mistake at work that will probably cost me my job. I’m trying to rest in God’s love, but it’s sure hard to feel right now.

  12. Beulah Land says:

    You’re a good writer.
    I too have been set on a path, and a very difficult one, of learning God loves me. All my stuff is what’s keeping me resistant and afraid to risk falling into His arms.
    I loved what you learned from your Greek teacher, Pastor Paul. Especially, ‘both verbs are passive’. That’s essential for my sanity. And for my perfectionism and control. And it’s tremendously freeing. “He is the vine, I am the branch.” When I first received the revelation that He ‘who began the good work’ didn’t need my help to ‘continue to perform it (in me) until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 1:6) I felt such a freedom.
    Thanks for sharing your heart.

  13. Thank you Lisa for this most beautifully written post. It has touched my wounded heart more than you can know and I appreciate it so much. This is one I will read again and again.
    God’s richest blessings to you.

  14. I like your last paragraph, Lisa, starting with “As we fix our eyes on Christ, his love continues to beget,…” The paragraph reminds me of I John 4:19, which caps the verses you had quoted above: “We love because he first loved us.”