Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Only the beloved can love

Love makes the world go around. All we need is love. If love is so important, then perhaps we can build an identity on it? Perhaps we can say that we are defined by who and how we love, that the quality of our love shows the quality of our person? Indeed, the two commands (or double command) that Jesus revealed at the heart of human obedience speak precisely of this: to love God and to love neighbour (Mark 12.28-31). If these are the most important things we are to do, then might they not be the best way of understanding ourselves? We are those who love God and neighbour.

However, the object and quality of our loves does not provide an adequate basis for founding an identity, nor can they be reliably forged into a self-justification. We are only secondarily lovers. We are first beloved. And only when we are first beloved can we then love. This is true of children: being loved comes before any attempt to love in return. And it is even more true of us as children of God: "We love because he first loved us." "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and send his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4.10, 19)

The good news is that this means that there is no anxiety in love. In loving others, we are not attempting to secure or prove or acquire or protect ourselves. If we sometimes fail in our attempts, we are not destroyed. Instead, the prior love of God for us frees our love from the constrictions that belong to fear. We are beloved; as such, we are brought out into a broad space of freedom and delight. Love is not a burdensome command that must be obeyed lest we fall into destruction. There is no need to beat ourselves up over the imperfections in our attempts to care for those around us. Love is a joyful free responsiveness to God's delight in us.

Of course, loving broken and hurting neighbours will not be all roses and smiles. Tears and suffering are also the fruit of love in a dying world. But our tears are not the price we pay in order to get some love in return. Instead, as beloved of God, we are invited into the sometimes painful privilege of echoing and sharing that divine love.

7 comments:

Cecily said...

(Andrew writing) Have you read much of Henri Nouwen Byron? He writes a lot on this subject. Hope all is well in your studies and family.

byron smith said...

Hi AP. No I haven't read much/any HN. Can you recommend which one to start with?

Irith said...

Hi, Byron, just to butt in, I've been reading Nouwen's 'Reaching Out'. I've read it about 3 times in the last 6 months. Very illuminating.

Mike W said...

Hi Byron, funnily enough I just started reading Nouwen's journal of his final year.

Cecily said...

Byron - those recommendations underneath are very good.Everyone will have a different opinion on this but...

Perhaps a good start could be a book called 'Beloved: Henri Nouwen in Conversation' by Phillip Roderick.

Basically Roderick interviews Nouwen and has typed it up but it is excellent in putting forward Nouwen's 'thesis' on being beloved.

AS for his actual books...hmmm...'The Wounded Healer' is his book for pastors and ministry workers but really for every Christian; 'The Inner Voice of Love' is a very intense journal following a personal breakdown so read in small chunk (excellent); 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' is a personal story of him seeing the painting of this biblical story and how it shaped his understanding of the parable...I could go on. I recommend him highly. He's been a wonderful companion on the road.

byron smith said...

Cecily - I realise I'm many moons late, but thanks for those recommendations.

I've returned to this post (and so noticed your comment, which otherwise somehow escaped my attention) because I've just noticed a paragraph in another post that is highly relevant to the points in this one. Here it is:
"In the beginning, the culmination and high point and goal of creation is not humanity, but Sabbath. And in the second creation account, the 'adam [man] was created and placed in the garden to work and serve the ground, but also to enjoy the trees. We are made to smell the roses, not just put manure on them. We are first recipients of all God's good gifts (beginning with the breath of life and culminating in the holy Breath) before we are co-workers with him. We are first his children before being his servants. We are first those whose feet are washed by Christ before those who will die with him. In these ways, passivity is more fundamental to our creaturely (and Christian) existence than activity."

The quote is from this post.

byron smith said...

(Cecily = Andrew)