God is love. The supreme surprise of God’s love is that it has nothing to do with you. God loves you because He decides to. You don’t influence God’s love. The apostle John didn’t say that God is occasional love or frequent love, but God IS love. If your actions altered God’s love, it would be human love.
God Loves Everyone, Always
God’s love is unconditional. Life may be good or we may wallow in despair. Success signals God’s love no more than struggles indicate the lack of it. When you abide in His love, you make it your home in the good times and the bad times.
“God’s love is all-inclusive and takes under its wing all being, your being and mine, saint and sinner alike. Until you understand that this is the nature of God, you cannot know Him aright” writes Joel S. Goldsmith.
In his book Practicing the Presence, Mr. Goldsmith writes “the nature of God’s love is forgiveness. Who loves and holds in condemnation! Who loves and holds a memory of something to be forgiven! In the heart of the lover there is no condemnation, there is compassion. There is no condemnation from parent to child, no condemnation from lover to beloved. There is no condemnation wherever there is love. We do not hold those we love in condemnation.”
This can be seen in the recounting of the last earthly days of Jesus. At the last supper in Matthew 26:31, Jesus says “tonight all of you will desert me”. All the disciples scoffed at the idea. Yet before the dark became dawn “all his disciples deserted him and ran away“. But when Christ rose from the dead, he never brought it up. Never. Not even one “I told you so.“ The disciples deserted Jesus, but he still loved them.
God Revealed the Extent of His Love to Julian of Norwich
Elaine A Heath gives us insight into the visions of Julian of Norwich as a part of her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism. It was revealed to Julian that not only does God forgive but that He understands that the emotional wounds that we experience in life are the cause of our sin.
Julian, a 14th century anchorite of Norwich, England, spent most of her life in a small cell attached to the church of Saint Julian, from whom she took her name. As an anchorite, her life was devoted to prayer, not for herself but for the world. Julian’s wisdom arose from a lifetime of meditation on a series of 15 visions she experienced on May 8, 1373, while gravely ill.
She saw to her astonishment that God‘s judgment is without wrath, that it will heal the entire cosmos. She saw that God looks at human sinfulness and brokenness “with pity and not with blame.“ Yet how could it be, Julian questioned, in light of sin, the devil, and the traditional teaching of the church, that God‘s judgment would be without wrath? Julian wrestled with God, unable to resolve the tension between what God showed her and what the church taught. Bewildered by the absence of God‘s wrath (as she understood it) in her vision, as well as God’s silence concerning the Damned, Julian wept, begging God to give her some way to reconcile the tension. Then He gave her a 16th vision which she continued to contemplate.
As the years passed and Julian prayed, she came to understand that her vision told of the fall of humanity, cast not as willful or prideful rebellion, but because of childlike exuberance leading to a mistake. Julian’s God loves with a power that is deeper than sin, that heals all wounds, a love that binds humanity to God forever. Love is God’s meaning. God‘s essence. God’s overwhelming message to her is one of security for the saved. Even though she believes in the genuine possibility of hell for people, Julian’s stance becomes one of great help for all people who are the wounded. No matter how dreadful our conditions, the “sweet eye of pity is never turned away from us, and the operation of mercy does not cease. “
“The maternal grace of God draws and protects the sinful soul from the moment the soul is breathed into the body”, Julian writes. “Within our very physicality exists an operation of the Holy Spirit that mysteriously inclines us to God.”
Paul Explains the Depth of God’s Love
By pulling directly from Romans 8 we see where Paul initiates his love hunt with five life-changing questions for us to consider:
- Question one: “if God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (verse 31). The presence of God tilts the scales of security forever in our direction so who could hurt us?
- Question two: “since God did not spare even His own son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?“ (v. 32). Would God save our soul and then leave us to fend for ourselves? Will He address eternal needs and ignore earthly? Of course not.
- Question three poses: “who dares accuse us whom God has chosen us for His own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself “ (v. 33). Once God excepts you, what other opinion matters? Every voice that accuses you, including your own, sounds ineffectual in the tribunal of heaven. God‘s acceptance trumps earthly rejection.
- Question four continues: “who then will there be to condemn us? Will Jesus Christ? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, interceding for us” (v. 34). Adjacent to God, within a whisper’s distance of your Maker, sits the one who died for you. So, let your accusers or your conscience speak against you. Your divine defense attorney mutes their voices. Why? Because he loves you.
- Question five asks the primary question of this chapter, even the question of life: “can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? “ (v. 35). This question crests the top step of a great staircase. As we stand with Paul at the top, he bids us to look around for anything that can separate us from God‘s love. Can you name one element of life that signals the end of God’s devotion?
God Loves You, No Matter What
Are you convinced that you have never lived a loveless day? Not one. Those times you deserted the Christ: he loved you. You hid from him: he came looking for you. And those occasions you denied Christ, though you belong to him; were home with him? God let you feel the shame of conscience and feel the heat of tears. But he never let you go. Your denials cannot diminish his love.
Nor can your doubts. While there is much we cannot know, that we’ll never know, we can be sure of this: doubts don’t separate doubters from God’s love.
Years ago, I confessed to God that, although I understood that He existed and loved me, I felt no love for Him in my heart. This was during a period when I started searching for a closer relationship with God and had begun daily prayer and meditation. Not long after, as I became closer to God, He opened the way for my reciprocal love. He already knew my heart, but the confession of my separation from Him made it possible.
God sees the worst of us and loves us still. Your sins of tomorrow and failures of the future will not surprise him; He sees them now.
Longing to Love God
When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:8)
God spoke to Catherine in a vision saying
“When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him [Jesus] to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. And this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn to love. He would not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. You can hardly resist being drawn by love, then, unless you foolishly refuse to be drawn.”
Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of a French monastery in 1115 described his observation of how we journey toward God in his manuscript entitled On the Love of God. Perhaps you will see yourself in this continuum.
The first-degree of love : love of self for self’s sake.
In the human realm people love themselves for their own sake. This love of self is held in check by the command to love our neighbor. If we cannot love our neighbor because of our love of self, then we must restrain our lusts and give to our neighbor’s needs. Your love will then be temperate when you take from yourself and give it to your neighbor.
The second-degree of love: love of God for self’s sake
God blesses us with His protection. When we suffer from calamity, we turn to God and ask His help, calling upon Him in times of trouble that are beyond our abilities to remedy. This is how we who only love ourselves first begin to love God. We will begin to love God even if it is for our own sake. We love God because we have learned that we can do all things through him, and without Him we can do nothing.
Or as the apostle Paul asks, “does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted or hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?“ Earthly affliction does not equate to heavenly rejection.
The third-degree of love: love of God for God’s sake
As trials and tribulations continue to come upon us, every time God brings us through, even if our hearts are made of stone, we will begin to soften because of the grace of the rescuer. Thus we, we begin to love God not merely for our sakes, but for himself.
In order to arrive at this, we must continually go to God with our needs and pray. In those prayers the grace of God is tasted, and by frequent tastings it is proved to us how sweet the Lord is. Thus, it happens that once God’s sweetness has been tasted it draws us to the pure love of God more than our needs compel us to love him. Thus, we begin to say, “we now love God not for our necessity, but we ourselves have tasted and know how sweet the Lord is.“
When we begin to feel this, it will not be hard to fulfill the second commandment: to love our neighbor. For those who really truly love God in this way also love the things of God. Also, it becomes easier to be obedient to all the commands of God. We begin to love God‘s commands and embrace them.
This love is pure because it is disinterested. It is pure because it is not merely in our words that we begin to serve, but in our actions. We love because we are loved. We care for others because Jesus cared for us.
We have obtained this degree when we can say, “give praise to the Lord for He is good, not because He is good to me, but because He is good.“ Thus, we truly love God for God sake and not for our own. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time.
The fourth degree of love: love of self for God’s sake
Blessed are we who experience the 4th degree of love wherein we love ourselves for God’s sake. Such experiences are rare and come only for a moment. In a manner of speaking, we lose ourselves as though we did not exist, utterly unconscious of ourselves and emptied of ourselves.
If for even a moment we experienced this kind of love, we will then know the pain of having to return to this world and its obligations as we are recalled from the state of contemplation.
This perfect love of God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength will not happen until we are no longer compelled to think about ourselves and attend to the body’s immediate needs. Only then can the soul attend to God completely. This is why, in the present body that we have, it is difficult to maintain. I do not know if we can attain this degree in this life.
God has created in us a need for love and a need to express love. He created our souls in His image as loving extensions of Himself so that we will seek a loving relationship with Him. The perfect reciprocal love, for which we strive, is only found in Him. Do you feel a longing to be one with God? You can be, through deeply felt prayer and meditation. It takes time, so be patient with yourself. When we connect with Him we become fountains from which His abundant love can be poured out for others; our spouse, family, friends, strangers, and even our enemies. In the moment we are enfolded in God’s love, His love permeates our being. His love is the central theme of our being. His love is our life.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73: 25-26)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-21)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-18)
Come Thirsty by Max Lucado
On the Love of God by Bernard of Clairvaux
The Dialogue by Catherine of Siena
The Mystic Way of Evangelism by Elaine A Heath