“We love him because he
first loved us”
Epistle is a treatise on love which complements and underscores with
emphasis the love which his Gospel proclaims. It cannot be emphasised
enough, it seems to me, that we enter into the mystery of the life of God
by what we are given to see through the eyes of John. This epistle
intends, as so many of the epistles-lessons often do, the application of the
Gospel proclamation: “God is love”. Love is of God and so we
ought also to love one another. But what is that love?
That love is
the communion of God with God in God - the communion of the Trinity.
This is the love by which we have communion with God and so with one
another. Our loves find their place and meaning in God’s love. “He
that abideth in love abideth in God and God in him.”
This is, as it
were, the recurring refrain of the Trinity season: “God is love and he
that abideth in love abideth in God and God in him.” This is the
love which the Church is empowered and compelled to proclaim. But more
than that, the Church is to be the place of the indwelling love of God, the
place where God’s love is called to mind, and the place where that love
takes shape in us. The Church is to be the place where we seek the
perfection of our love in the grace of Jesus Christ.
The Church, of
course, refers to more than merely a building, just as the building, of
course, points to so much more beyond itself, so much more beyond wood and
stone, glass and tapestry. These holy places signify a greater purpose
and one which extends into the stuff of our daily lives with the intent that
they should be holy lives. We are called to love out of the love
which has been shown to us.
Four things are
to be noted here as arising out of the perspective which we are given to see
through the eyes of John. First, that the love which is of God
has been revealed to us as the communion of the Trinity; secondly,
that our lives find their place and meaning in the Trinitarian love of God;
thirdly, that our loves are expressed in the concrete realities of
our everyday lives; and fourthly, that in seeking the perfection of
our loves in the grace of Christ, we acknowledge that our loves are
imperfect and disordered. It is only in the communion of the Trinity
that we begin to find the proper expression and the true meaning of our
loves and our lives.
Ordo in me
caritatem. You have often heard me refer to these marvelous words from
The Song of Songs, “Set love in order in me.”
Seen in the light of what we have been given to see through the eyes of
John, they offer a maxim for our Christian lives. The phrase suggests
that we are not as we should or want to be. It is a prayer for the
perfecting grace of Christ to order our lives in holiness. God’s love
must do the ordering - the setting right - but it must be done in us and by
us willing what God wills for us and in us.
That love is
not something vague and indiscriminate. It is not an indifferent love.
And so too, our loves are not to be indeterminate and indefinite -
an-anything-that-may-be and in-any-kind-of-way form of love.
There is a
constant and pressing need to be able to distinguish the kinds of love which
belong to our lives. The distinctions lie in the differing relations
of our lives. There are the relations within the family; there are the
relations of friends in the many kinds and degrees of friendship; there are
the relations which belong to our public life as social and political and
spiritual creatures - our lives as neighbours, citizens, and believers.
In short, our loves are distinct and discriminate within definite contexts.
Yet ultimately, these are all the loves which must be set in order in us by
the perfecting grace of Christ. For in all our relations, our loves
are imperfect and awry. Either our loves are excessive and obsessive
or defective and cold or perverted and twisted; in any event, we are bent
out of shape. We are in disarray and disorder.
belongs to the spiritual purpose and mission of the Church to proclaim
the love of God and to place our lives in the perfecting grace of
Christ. That is a love which is known and definite, a love which
sets in order and perfects.
his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
“While we were yet sinners”,
God yet loves us. That doesn’t mean that God is indifferent to our
sinfulness, that he ignores and doesn’t care about our sinfulness. No.
God loves us in the truth of our God-created being, and if not by “signs
and wonders” such as thunderbolts from heaven, then it is by working
upon our consciences, that very aspect of our created being by which we are
most in God’s image, that God’s love works best upon us. Our loves can
only find their place and meaning in his love, a love which sometimes wounds
us into love by convicting us of the forms of our unloveliness. It
requires paying attention to his Word and not being indifferent to it.
The tragedy of
our lives is that we are indifferent to God’s Word and as a consequence we
are quite indifferent to the presence, let alone the needs of one another.
That is the point of the parable of Dives (the rich man) and Lazarus.
The rich man is indifferent to the one who is near to him. Lazarus
lies at his gate destitute and in desperate need. The consequence of
his ignoring Lazarus is that he finds himself infinitely removed from God.
He finds himself far from God because his indifference to his neighbour
Lazarus signals his indifference to God’s Word in Moses and the prophets.
How much greater is our indifference to Christ in one another? How far
do we separate ourselves from the love which is our perfection and
blessedness! Yet the parable is told to set God’s love in order in us
and to impel us to act out of the love of God revealed in his Word.
It is told to
bring us nearer to the love which made us, to the love which alone can set
our loves in order. There are no magical formulas of perfection, only the
discipline of holy lives seeking the perfection of our love in Christ Jesus.
His love goes before us so that his love may be made perfect in us. It is
the task of our lives. His is the perfect love but it is yet to be made
perfect in us; “while we were yet sinners.”
love opens out to us the love of God, the communion of the Trinity. In
that communion our loves are made perfect. We love him because he
first loved, and because he is love. God’s love is the love which
creates and recreates, the love which reorders the disorders of our loves
into the ways of perfect love. His love is the prior love, the primary
love, in which all our love shall find their place and their truth. And all
first loved us.”