“…the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” – A.W. Tozer
In case you missed it, today is Valentine’s Eve.
In this highly scientific study done by Ranker.com, Valentine’s Day was ranked as the #3 Most Hated Holiday – just barely beat out for the #2 spot by Columbus Day, and totally squashed by Black Friday at #1. Since V-Day is such a highly detested holiday for some folks, I’ll heartily refrain from romanticizing it.
Instead, let’s talk about something totally different. Let’s talk about love.
That’s right. Luuuuvvvv.
Now, if you’ve been keeping up with me, you’ll remember my theme for February has been “Uncomfortable”. We’ve blazed through a series of topics: “Get Real and Die Trying” wrestled with the authority of our feelings in the light of a Truth-focused reality; “Fury” captured our true position as sinners in relation to God; and “Pet Cemetery” unmasked our machinations of semi-God’s for the false idols that they are.
If you haven’t quite picked up on it yet, the goal here is for us to get out of our cozy zones by attacking some of our bad ideas about God. I’ve yet to find any Scriptural basis for complacency. If my mode of thinking about God has me comfy, I think I might have the wrong God in mind. I want to beat back those bad ideas.
So at this point you might be thinking, “Okay Preston, but you said we were going to talk about love. If you mean God’s love, surely you don’t think we have wrong ideas about that…”
Oh, but I do. And don’t call me Shirley.
I think we have a tendency to miss exactly how loving God is. I present my daily life and behavior as evidence of this omission, and I encourage you to do the same. I think if we really grasped the reality of God’s love, our lives would become unrecognizable.
You’re nodding, right? Maybe you do get it, but (if you’re anything like me) I suspect it still isn’t quite real to you yet.
Come with me. Let me take you somewhere to show you what I mean…
Here he comes now…finally! We’ve been waiting months for this. Let the fun begin. He’s gotten away with his craziness for too long, now he’ll get what’s coming to him.
Let’s see if he’s really as smart as he says he is. Here, take this blindfold…that’s right, tight around his eyes. Good! Now, one of us will smack him, and we’ll see if he can tell us which one of us it was. Ha! That’s it! Really give it to him! Watch this, I’m gonna knock the living daylights out of him.
C’mon, buddy! Who’s hitting you? Tell us! Tell us, genius!
Oh, see, he doesn’t want to answer? Fine then, let’s see how he likes spit in his stupid face. That’s right, hock up a good one, get all that snot in there. Yeah! Ha! Look at it dripping off his nose! What a loser.
Here, get his shirt off him. He won’t need it where he’s going. Hand me that whip. Yeah, that one, with all the bits of glass at the ends. Never used a whip before? Here, I’ll show you. Just rear it back like this…and wham! Unh! Look at all that blood! Man, that’s really something, the way it mangles up his back like that. Looks like ground beef, doesn’t it? Take it, give it a swing. That’s it! See you’re basically a pro. Keep at it, let’s take this self-righteous loon down a peg or two.
Oh no, we’re not done yet. We’re just getting started! Don’t tell me you’re getting a weak stomach. It’s just a little blood. Here, here, I brought these thorn vines with me. He kept going on about how he was some kind of king, let’s make a king out of him! I’ll twist them around…yeah, just like that. Hey, look, it’s a crown! Specially made for our king! Would you like to do the honors? Oops, it looks like I made it a little too big for him. No worries, just mash it down on his head. Just like that, great! Hey look, he’s getting blood in his eyes! Ha!
What’s the matter, king? Got a bit of a headache? That’s too bad. Oh, sounds like the governor’s wants to show you off to everybody. Don’t worry, you’ll see us again real soon!
Ha! Look at him, he can barely walk! Hope the governor doesn’t mind getting blood on his floors. C’mon, let’s go see what he says…
Did you hear that? The governor just told the whole crowd that he couldn’t find anything that guy had done wrong! Are you kidding me? The fool said he was a king, a god even, he’s obviously nuts. No way he’s gonna let him off! Look, everybody else feels the same way, they’re shouting! Yeah! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!
Ha! The governor is letting us have our way! But look, we thrashed him so bad he can’t even carry his own cross. Oh well, we’ll have to grab somebody to carry it for him.
C’mon, king, quit dragging around. I know you’re just stalling. We don’t have all day, get on with it!
Hey, you should give him a good kick…bam! That’s the ticket! Man, we really did him in good, he can’t hardly even stand up! Don’t worry, I’ll give him some motivation..
Get up! Quit lying around, you. Geez, what a mess you’ve made. Look, you got your blood all over everywhere. Get up already!
What was that he said? He glanced at us before he bowed his head…something about “forgive them” and “not knowing”? I dunno. Whatever, this dude really is nuts, isn’t he? C’mon, this last bit is the best part!
Here, I’ll hold the first nail. Take this hammer.
Hold still now, buddy, this is only going to hurt…a lot! Ha!
Swing it! Aw, whoops, it slipped. If only there wasn’t so much blood everywhere…don’t worry, he doesn’t need that chunk of his arm anyway. I’ll just set the nail further back this time.
Ok, now it’s my turn with the hammer. Yeah, that’s it, hold that nail right there, it’s gotta go between those two bones in his forearm. Nice! That oughtta hold him up all day! Let’s back up and let those other guys stand his cross up…
Listen to him crying out. Some god he is. He can’t even save himself. And he even had the audacity to say something about forgiving us. What a freak, man…here, let’s rock-paper-scissors for his shirt. It’s some souvenir, ay?
Despicable, isn’t it? I’ll be honest, it wrenched my stomach in knots to write that.
Does participating in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ upset you? Don’t like all that blood and gore? Did you think, “Well, if I had been there, I wouldn’t have done that to Jesus.” Yeah, and Peter said he would never betray Him. But we know how that went.
No, friend, let’s be honest with ourselves.
We did it. What Christ bore for those many awful hours before His death, He bore because of what we did. If it hadn’t been for our sin, none of this disturbing affair would have been necessary.
We jeered. We spat. We held the whip. We twisted the thorny crown. We pounded in the nails. We did it with glee. That’s what the “wages of sin” look like, but instead of us getting paid our due, Christ took it for us and from us. What happened in Jerusalem that day was what our sin cost Christ.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.’ – Luke 23:34
Could you do it? If you knew you were innocent, could you forgive someone who had you brutally beaten and humiliated beyond recognition, just like that? Could you look at your tormentor and, despite your battered and bloodied state, have compassion on them? That’s what He did. He looked at all these people who were screaming for his death and His heart broke – not for Himself, but for them. He looked at you and me – wallowing in our sin and self, living in violent opposition and flagrant disobedience to God – and implored the Father to forgive us.
You couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. It’s simply impossible. That’s the reality of Christian love. It’s impossible.
God’s love is so earth-shattering it should break us in half.
It’s not a huggy, Hallmark-channel love. It’s not a warm and fuzzy sensation. God’s love is devastating. I think if we could fully grasp the depths of God’s love we would find it absurd. It doesn’t make sense. Yet it’s there, freely given, despite every sinful thing about us.
But that still isn’t the end of it. When we come to know Christ, He says, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” Where are we going? It’s not to a place, but to a state of being – a state where we imitate the most extreme display of real love that there ever was. Where the entirety of our lives point others towards the bloody wreckage of the God-man, hanging there on Calvary. By way of the cross, Christ loved us to death. Literal, physical death. That’s the kind of life we’re called to as Christians.
Christian love will kill us. It means loving God and others to such an extreme point that we die. That is, we die with Christ, so that we can be made new and complete in Him through His resurrection.
Christ says that everyone will know we are His disciples by our love for one another. I don’t think He meant they’ll look in on us and say “Oh, look how nice they all are to each other!” If love means what Christ lived, they will say “What is wrong with these people!? How can they love to such an absurd extreme?”
To which we can then knowingly reply, “We can’t. But we have Someone living within us who can, and we can do all things through His strength.”
So as we think about love this Valentines Day, let’s heartily refrain from romanticizing the real love we’ve been given. It isn’t pretty, but it has a terrifying beauty. It isn’t magic, but it is a heart-breaking miracle. And it’s hardly rosy, but it is stained the deepest, most soul-cleansing red that you could ever imagine.
“And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain –
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
How can it possibly be?