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Saturday, April 17, 2010

CrossTalk: The Greatest of These Is Love

We are never told that God is faith or that God is hope. But we are told that “God is Love.”

And that’s what makes love “the greatest of these.” Love is the very nature of God. It is who He IS.

This is confessed in all three articles of the Creed.

He is “the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” He creates out of nothing because it’s His nature to love. He creates not because He needs to... Not because we asked Him to... Not because we deserve to be created... Rather, God is our Maker out of sheer will to bestow His love on that which is nothing.

Likewise, He redeems me from sin without any merit or worthiness in me. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.”

And He Makes us holy out of his abundant giving and not because we deserve it. I cannot by my own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel...

God, by His very nature gives freely and fully to that which is nothing.

This is the image of God which He also gives to us by His love. The imago Dei consists in our sharing God’s own freely-giving nature. “We love because He first loved us.”

Divine Love (agape) is sourced in the giver of the love and not to any extent in the recipient. God loves not because you are lovely but to make you lovely. (Eph 5)

Now, as soon as I state it that way, it’s upsetting because it’s offputting. To think of ourselves as having no intrinsic worth or value but only that which our Creator and Lover bestows upon us, insults our self-esteem (self-love).

And it doesn’t seem to matter how much value God thus gives us. Even though He freely and willingly exalts us to sit at His own right hand, the very fact that this is purely a gift and undeserved, unearned is maddening. We don’t want God to love us like this. We want to be loved for our own inner qualities—for something that we have apart from God's giving or in addition to God’s giving—something that we can bring to the relationship.

But it is this very desire which is our fallenness. By this we reject and refuse our lover-God and run off to other gods who cannot give us anything that we need, but who whisper sweet nothings in our ears about how lovely we are in and of ourselves without God.

Even though we fight this sinful desire to have another God, the very fact that we have the desire at all, is our greatest need.

It is in response to this utter inability to willingly receive the love of God that God Himself became a man. God becomes a man in order that, as a man, He might receive this abundant love “for us men and for our salvation.”

Jesus, according to His human nature, does not share our idolatrous desire. Rather, He truly, fully and without qualification WANTS to be loved by God. And He IS loved by God. “This is My beloved Son.” He receives for us what we cannot receive for ourselves. And He gives this received love to all who are united with Him.

And by being baptized into Christ’s Person, we receive with Him all of God’s good gifts
...including the image of God which was lost in desire for autonomy. In Christ, and only in Christ, are we restored to our created capacity to love one another as God loves us. In Christ we love freely and willingly—not for our own sakes or because of the qualities of those we love—but purely out of sheer goodness. The love which is the image of God “does not seek it’s own.”

...nor is it “puffed up.” To have Christ’s true human nature given to us means not only that we can truly love as God loves...but also that we have the capacity to receive this love from others. To be loved in spite of our faults and sins and not because of our innate goodness is what we need the most but want the least.

Fallen humanity is always puffed up—unable and unwilling to receive what you haven’t earned and don’t deserve. But the new humanity created by God by His incarnation in Jesus is now given to receive such love not only from God but also from our neighbors.

Humbling ourselves before one another to receive also from each other what we don’t deserve, this too is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ. The love that God bestows upon us in Christ both recreates us in the image of God to give freely to others while also restoring us to our true place as creatures receiving freely from God through all of our neighbors.

This is the love of God being giving and being received in the body of Christ, His holy Church.

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