I’m nearly finished (re-)reading the new Testament for my first pass. I’ve found plenty of complicated messages, and while unraveling the most complicated parable can be highly rewarding, sometimes the most refreshing messages to be found in verse are the simplest. And, there is no message more simple than this one, found in the first Epistle of John: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).
God is love. That’s all there is.
God’s love is made manifest by our existence, and is again proven by the fact that he sent His Son to us, that through Christ we might live. Through Christ we might walk with Him.
God is love. He embodies love such that we did not need to love Him in order for Him to send Christ to us.
God is love, and it is so easy for us to walk with Him. We need only to accept that love, and that sacrifice, and live in that love, and then we are with Him.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that doing so is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. Perfect love is complicated, and in some ways it goes against our nature. Our base instinct is to fear the unknown, and act in retaliation when we are confronted with strife. I know that I personally must make efforts to love my fellows; it is a constant, conscious choice. Even when I am not being attacked in any way, often my reaction to my neighbor is indifference. This is not good enough.
Later in that same chapter, John continues: “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:20,21). This idea hearkens back to a lesson I’ve written about before, which is that we must practice being like God, and like Christ. Part of that practice is the love I’m thinking about today.
John tells us the same thing when he says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God . . . since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7,11). He’s saying that we ought to practice the same grace that God has granted us, but I think he’s also saying something more. If God is love, and we are to practice being like Him, then we too must also strive to become love embodied. His love, and our own love, which is enabled through Him.
I know that in my own life, this will be difficult to apply. Even on days when I am angry, or hurt, or wounded, or simply tired, it will be easy to just retreat from that calling. Just shrug it off and say “maybe tomorrow.” Like all parts of this journey, I must consciously choose to make those qualities manifest within and through myself.
I heard a zen koan that has always stuck with me: the people that are hardest to love are the ones that need it the most. It’s a lovely thought, and true. I think there ought to be a corollary to it, though: Even when it is hardest for us to give love, that is when we need most to give it.