At the turn of the last century, G.K. Chesterton described God’s love as the “furious love of God.” Brennan Manning picked up on that description in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. Why furious love? Seems oxymoronic to say the least. But it’s a good start toward understanding the single most important concept and lesson of our lives.
Scripture tells us that God is love—which means that for God, love isn’t a verb, a behavior God does or doesn’t do, but who and what God is, identity itself. Unchanging, intrinsic. And so God’s love is described as perfect, unconditional, unfailing, and indiscriminate. This last adjective is the hardest. God’s love is so perfect that it falls on the just and the unjust alike. God’s love is so unconditional that it takes no note of accomplishment or lack thereof. God’s love is so unfailing that it is available anywhere, anywhen we turn to face it. God’s love is so indiscriminate that it is not fair.
It’s not fair that our efforts don’t count. It’s not fair that everyone gets the same love no matter what, where, when, who, or how. But then, if God’s love wasn’t unfair, then there would be no Good News, now would there? In fact, scripture describes God not as all-loving, but as being love itself. God is love. God doesn’t “do” love the way we do. We put on love like a coat and take it off just as quickly. For God, love isn’t a verb, it’s a noun. He is that thing we experience as love. In Aramaic, that deepest desire, purpose, and power is called sebyana. It describes something akin to the paths of the planets in their orbits, something utterly predictable and stable, something following an immutable course born out of the deepest state of being–like DNA code inevitably carrying each embryo to be the creature that it is, whether frog or human.
In others words, God is the substance of all we call love. If we get close to him, we will experience that love. It is always on, always full blast…like a firehose. There is no more or less, off or on, we can stand in the blast zone or we can move out of its way, but nothing we can do can affect the fact of God’s furious love. If God is love, then God can’t love us any more and God can’t love us any less. As Philip Yancey said, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less.”
Here’s a really hard one: if God’s love is truly unconditional, then in the face of God’s love, our behavior doesn’t matter at all! Reread the stories of the Gospels. Jesus forgave before cleansing; healed before repentance, and accepted without any preconditions. In the face of our moral sense and the effort we put into “being good,” this is an outrage. Just as the older brother of the prodigal was outraged, just as the workers who worked from early in the morning only to get the same pay as those who came late in the day were outraged, we are outraged. But Jesus calmly tells us that this is the way we are loved, and the way we should love all those in our path.
Before I lose some of you completely, if we are truly in love with God and each other, our behavior will take care of itself. (See James 2) But the principle remains: God’s love does not demand any particular behavior from us in order to be showered upon us. This is the great lesson of our lives. We can either live in fear or in love. We can live constantly afraid of never gaining what we want and need (envy), of losing what we have (jealousy), or we can remember to trust that anything and everything of value can never be taken from us because it was never ours to begin with. It is God’s unconditional gift of acceptance. The first book of John tells us that fear is the opposite of love, because only perfect love casts out fear. If we don’t understand the perfection and ferocity of God’s love for us, we will always live in fear, and that is the opposite of the abundant life Jesus came to show us.
As you continue reading these articles, please understand that they all are only as important as their ability bring you to this simple revelation: that God loves you no matter what you do or did or will do. And that our acceptance of that love will be reflected in the way we love others. All else is commentary. For many of us steeped in religious traditions that continue to imply there is something we must do to earn God’s love and acceptance or for those who are sure that something that seems too good to be true must be, this is a hard pill to swallow. Hopefully the rest of these articles will help break down some of the obstacles to that understanding.