<Previous: The prison of fear
God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. (I John 1:5)
God is love. (I John 4:8)
See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (I John 3:1)
I’m really not sure how I missed the point. I’ve been a member of a church since I was a baby—ten churches and four different denominations, if I’m counting correctly—and I learned all the stories and memorized all the scriptures and the songs and the pithy platitudes, and yet I still missed it.
God is love.
I mean, I knew that. I said it, I sang it, I believed it—but I don’t think I really understood it.
Somehow, I bought into this idea that God is angry, that He is sitting up in heaven with a lightning bolt in His hand, ready to hurl it at me when I mess up. Somehow I internalized that I am doomed. I feared disappointing Him—“after all, Jesus died for you! You owe it to Him to follow all the rules! ‘Be holy, just as God is holy’!” And all the shame piled on my shoulders over many years of screwing up again and again. I would beg forgiveness and promise to do better next time—which, of course, I did, sort of and for a little while, but always failed again.
I’ve known God loved me, for the Bible told me so. I’ve known all the right answers. I’ve experienced a sporadic and fleeting peace because I knew He would forgive me again and that nothing I do or don’t do could make Him love me any more…or any less. I’ve known I am His child and I belong to Him. But I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the fullness of Love. I still don’t, and I’m not sure I ever will. Not completely.
My faith journey began with the liturgy of the Episcopal church—hymns and readings, communal prayers and brief homilies—and evolved to contemporary worship choruses, extemporaneous conversations with God, raised hands and closed eyes. The music got louder, the house lights grew dimmer, the spotlights became brighter, the smoke got thicker…and I grew more and more disoriented and disillusioned. I craved simplicity and quiet, perhaps because that was the origin of my spiritual palate. I don’t know.
But somewhere in the serenity of the woods, of thoughtful lyrics, of contemplation and quiet spaces, I stopped working so hard at making faith work. I learned to rest and to listen. I learned to sit in silence. The music of Gungor, Jon Foreman, and The Brilliance tethered me to a faith I was tempted to abandon altogether. I began reading about contemplative theology and practice— writers like Richard Rohr, N.T.Wright, Sarah Bessey, Ed Cyzewski, Barbara Brown Taylor. I’m still reading, still absorbing, still processing.
(This has been my journey. It’s my story, which may or may not look like yours or anyone else’s. And that’s okay. No one’s journey is right or wrong.)
In those quiet spaces, I realized this: God is Love. Nothing else. This Love is a force and a light and a warmth that fills all the cracks and crevasses and vast spaces of Earth and cosmos. There is no place where Love is not. His love surrounds and fills and holds us—all of us.
(Remember in my introduction when I said I might get a little wooooOOOOooo hippy flower power? Stay with me…)
Psalm 139 rhetorically asks, “Where can I go from Spirit? And where can I flee from Your presence? If I make my bed in hell, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
There is no where we can go in our minds or in our bodies in which He does not already exist. We only have to remember that Love holds us.
We don’t have to spin our wheels to race towards an ever-moving finish line. We simply need to rest and to breathe. We simply need to remember.
So for me, this redefines the terrifying and heavily loaded church-words. “Sin” means forgetting we are loved and therefore acting unlovingly. “Repentance” means remembering I am loved and living from that identity. “Evangelism” means reminding others how deeply they are loved.
When we live in the space of this Love, we work to bring all into this place. How could we not? This is the work of justice, a return to the purpose of the Kingdom of God—oneness with God; that is, Love. In the Kingdom, all are equally loved and valued. This is our goal. Like Jesus, we seek those on the outskirts, the marginalized, the silenced, the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the weak. To the ones whom our world has dismissed as unlovable and unworthy, we stand next to them and say “WRONG. You are deeply loved and valued and important. Here, take my megaphone. We’re listening.”
This realization of Love has healed so many wounds and disappointments for me. It has answered my disillusionment with clarity, insecurity with contentment and perspective. When I find myself anxious or angry or uncertain, Love gently reins me back in and whispers, “You are Beloved. Rest. Breathe.”
Fear cannot co-exist with Love. This is impossible. One voice will always be louder. We choose which voice we will hear. I think this is a life-long process, and one I am only beginning. But of this I am certain: perfect Love expels all fear, and the more we lean into Love, the less power fear holds over us. We will explore this idea in the next post.
For today, consider:
How has your perception of God evolved? What are your earliest recollections of who He is?
What is your initial response to the idea of God = Love? How does that affect your view of humanity? Of yourself?
How do you define “justice”? Do you agree with the statement that justice is “a return to the purpose of the Kingdom of God”? Why or why not?