We don’t understand love. We think we do, we think it is this nebulous thing that drifts between us and makes us happy and warm. Something that makes us feel like we belong, that makes our hearts stop hurting. Something that takes away our loneliness and says, you’re okay, you’re good.
But I think perhaps our poor understanding is illuminated in the treachery that circles around us, an inevitable force that we reckon with daily, and our responses to it betray what we really know of love, or that we really know nothing of it.
We read the stories, we hear them often on the news–that roving eye that capitalizes on human depravity, and often we think,
I would never…
How could they?
There is a litany of horrors.
They spread across our history and present like a grim tapestry.
And as I read about them I want to lock myself away and ignore the darkness outside. But with each image of horror an icy dagger pierces my heart, and I think, Oh God, have mercy. Forgive me. Because I am just like them. And maybe I would. And maybe I cover my own guilt with my shock at someone else’s. And if I locked myself away from the parade of horrors outside, I would be trapped alone with the horrors within.
I am just like them, the murderers, the thieves, the ones who take power over who they can, who use good things and twist them for their own gain, who take pleasure in another’s harm, who see people as commodity for their gain. But because of Christ, I am also not. Not anymore.
I am reminded of this by tiny hands. There are these tiny hands I hold often, they also turn to hardened fists that angrily strike me when right and want clash, and sometimes, in a corner of my heart I want to just let them, to give way to the weariness and stop challenging them. But because of Christ, that corner of my heart is pierced again and again, so instead of giving up, I take those small fists in my own hands, and I weave the story that tells of love; love that loved fiercely as it hung and dripped red, and it loves fiercely still. Love that rips out our old wicked hearts and replaces them instead with one fashioned by sacrificial love.
And slowly, those fists uncurl, and those small hands that once struck out angrily now wrap gently but ferociously around my neck in an embrace of love and repentance and grace. And my much larger hands fumble to do the same.
You see, we look out at our world and we see the other, and we parade ourself above them, and we say, not me, I am not that bad. I gave to charity once. I was nice to someone who cut me off. I obey the law. I only yelled because I was provoked. They deserved it. I only thought about them badly, I never said a word. That’s a horrible thing, but I can’t stop it, and I won’t do it myself.
We shrug, and we turn away and say we love. We say, I am not so bad. Love me. I deserve your love. I am good. And we say this with the same mouth that cruelly sneers when someone we hate gets what we think they deserve.
But Love does not accept us as such. Love does not tell the thief, “you are good”, Love says, “I have bought you as my own, you are mine, I have given you everything, including freedom from your past self, now act like it and let me make you new”.
Love is not something soft that bends to our wishes and mends our hearts, no, Love is dangerous, it is fierce, and unrelenting, and majestic. Love scours our heart, painfully at first, but then refreshingly as the scales of treachery fall and a new self emerges. Love is unbearable as it strips us of our long held wickedness, and it is beautiful as it reveals something better.
Like Chesterton says,
Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music.
-G.K. Chesterton, Heretics
Love destroys us and then He remakes us.
And when we look back everything is different.
We don’t often like to think on our past mistakes, how we have transgressed others, how we stepped into traps set for us to be transgressed against. But when Love destroys who we were, and makes us new again, we look back with new eyes. Eyes that no longer burn with shame, but instead weep with gratitude. And we have to look back, because while our stories were once littered with shame and guilt, they have been bought with a blood-soaked gift, they have been bought with Love.
We have to look back because we have a different story now, what was once a horrific tragedy, has been bought and rewritten as a romance; with the love of a groom for his bride, his bride who wickedly drove nails through his flesh, he loved her, and he bought her back with his blood.
It is worth looking back, because we have a vision of what lies ahead. And by looking back we remember who we once were, what we really deserve, and how we were washed with an extraordinary, absurd, wave of mercy. And when our eyes look back, they gaze up in gratitude, and they look out to a world full of those who are just as we were, and The Great Commission seems only the natural thing to do, the obvious response to the gift we’ve been given.
Our history has not been wiped clean in the sense that it is no longer a part of us, it is rewritten within us in a way that it no longer points an accusing finger at ourselves or someone else, but it instead lifts hands high in praise to him.
If we really know what love is, our response to the horror outside isn’t:
how could they?
That was me, Oh God, that was me. Thank you for a love that didn’t leave me there.
Our accusing becomes mercy that wants to give that one who is Love, we want them to hear him say, “you are not good, you are not okay, you do not deserve me, but I love you anyway, and though it is painful, I can change your heart, I can make you new. I am goodness, and I give you myself.“