Am I Succeeding in Love?

The mission of the Church rests on the idea that God is love.  It sounds like a simplistic idea - a bumper sticker slogan or platitude.  For me, though, the more that I see of the world and step beyond the boundaries that I place on myself, I see that it this is the most consistently challenging tenet of my faith, and that it is also entirely and flawlessly true.

The love of God is a love that compelled the creation of humans in God's likeness.  It is a love that reaches out to us even though we consistently turn from it, harming each other and ourselves.  It is a love that is willing to withstand rejection and heartache, even physical suffering and death on the cross, in order to make itself felt.  It is a love that reaches out to us when we are suffering, despondent, ill, rejected, grieving, or angry.  And it is a love that causes us to rejoice when it touches us.  It is a love that fills our hearts when we sit down to a meal with new friends, when we play with children, when we work with people to do a little bit of good, when we listen to someone's story, and when we simply stand by someone or have someone stand by us.

Someone recently challenged me on the idea of religion, stating that it is merely a means to justify our actions.  It is the idea that "God is on my side, therefore what I do is just."  Too often, religion is used in precisely this manner.  We believe that God wants us to succeed, and therefore sanctions our actions at the expense of others.  If God is on my side, and you are not, then God is NOT on YOUR side.  But if we challenge ourselves again and again to believe that God is love, we begin to see that God wants love to succeed, and wants us to succeed in love.

Think about what that means?  We talk a lot about right and wrong, and where we feel justified.  But we can feel justified even when love is not succeeding.  I can feel justified in closing my life to strangers, in ignoring the needs of those outside of my family or community, in viewing others with suspicion.  I can feel justified in not giving up my time and energy to help others, in not sharing any of my hard-earned paycheck with someone in greater need.  (After all, I work hard and have my own responsibilities.)  I can feel justified in making personal attacks on people that disagree with my political opinions.  (After all, what I want will make the world a better place; what they want will just make things worse.)  I can even feel justified in hatred and bitterness.  (After all, I have been wronger or wounded.)

So now, I am justified.  But is love succeeding, and am I succeeding in love?  Am I acting in a way that reflects the loving God who created me?  And, just as God longs to express and participate in loving relationships, do I not long for the same?  Do I find joy in being justified?  Do I find God?

It is not such a simplistic idea, that God compels and challenges each moment to transcend tribalism, nationalism, protectionism, and so many other tendencies motivated by fear.  Our root nature is to love, yet love also means vulnerability.  It means that we, too, must be open to the very rejection, heartache, and suffering that God endures on a daily basis for our sake.  It means that we have to trust that in accepting it, in embracing it, and in expressing it despite our fears, we will grow closer to God, closer to one another, and more like the people that we are meant to be.
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