Lenten meditation: Love (actually)

heart questionAh, Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate love and romance, to remember why you fell in love in the first place. Many men will take their sweethearts out to a nice dinner, or buy them flowers, candy, or even a diamond, if they can afford it. After all, in case you haven’t been paying attention, “Every kiss begins with Kay.” (Somebody shoot me now.)

Us? My wife will be helping teach our adult Sunday School class, while I preach about love at another church.

Hmm. (I imagine some of you crossing your arms right about now.)

That’s not to say we won’t do anything else (like frozen yogurt, pizza, and the movie that Rotten Tomatoes considers to be the best romantic comedy of all time). And don’t get me wrong. I am not in the least bit anti-romance.

Nor am I willing to say that romantic love isn’t real love — even if some might trot out a bit of Greek and insist that eros is not agape, for the latter means “Christian love” and is therefore the only kind deserving of the name.

It’s not that simple. When the authors of the New Testament spoke of agape, it’s not because they had discovered a new vocabulary word that conveniently meant what they needed it to mean. Rather, they had to find an existing word that was in the ballpark, and imbue it with new meaning. They needed a word they could use to point beyond itself to something far more grand: what God had revealed of his nature through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The apostle John puts it this way:

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins. (1 John 4:7-10, CEB)

God’s is loving in the extreme. He sent his Son as a sacrifice on our behalf, loving us even when we didn’t love him.

But God isn’t just loving: God is love. We will never be able to fully unpack that statement, of course, any more than we will be able to comprehend the depth and breadth of God’s nature.

And yet such a statement serves up a reminder that all our understandings of love, all of our clumsy attempts at its embodiment, are at best glimmers. We can say that romance is love, or at least one possible expression of it.  But as Christians, we can never say that romance is God.

We’ll have to leave that to Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Sure, any excuse for spouses to show affection and appreciation to each other might be a good one. If Valentine’s Day draws couples together, great.

But today is not only Valentine’s Day; it’s also the first Sunday of Lent.  (When was the last time that happened?) It’s fitting that on the day we celebrate love, we should also turn our hearts and minds toward its supreme demonstration.  “No one has greater love,” Jesus told his disciples, “than to give up one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, CEB).

That’s how we know that God is loving.

And that’s how we know God is love.