“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Love of God, Part II

...Consequently, in loving God and others (the greatest commandments, cf. Mark 12:29-31, John 13:34), we imitate our Creator, in whose image we are made (Ephesians 5:1-2). All this results from the very nature of God’s being – he is such a God that his purpose is the good of creatures as well as his own good, and this purpose is achieved through his action, which is also rooted in his nature. Even in God himself there is love between the persons of the Trinity (cf. Matthew 3:7, 17:5). (If God were solely one person, love would not be inherent to his being, but as a triune being, he lives in community as three persons.) In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father, asking that, just as he is one with the Father and just as there is a bond of love between him and the Father, all believers may be united in Christ in their love for God and for one another (cf. John 14:21, 15:9; Ephesians 4:16). Love unites the body of Christ under the headship of Christ (the source of that love) and draws together those who are “in Christ” while preserving the diversity of many beings. And it is a love so wide that it extends even to our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Paul writes that love “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). Jonathan Edwards writes, “In some sense, the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others because he places his happiness in their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself. Thus when they are happy, he feels it; he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness.” It is this wider others-oriented love that is the idea behind Jesus’s words “so in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, see also Philippians 2:3-4), and here Jesus also reminds his listeners that the entire Old Testament hinges upon this theme!

The love that is rooted in the being of the Triune God is all-encompassing, valuing the good of others alongside one’s own good (Matthew 7:12). Over and against this wider vision of reality is Screwtape’s vision. If Lewis is right, then evil has a contracted, narrowed, and dimmed vision of reality, irreparably damaged and severed from the way things really are. The self is exalted, and it is the good of the self that is sought over and against the good of others. This mindset consumes those who have rejected God and embraced evil; in departing from God, they lost an understanding of his ways and his nature and thus lost touch with the nature of reality itself, for it is God that is at the foundation of all reality. This is why Screwtape just can’t understand the fact of God’s love – he just can’t get it, and thus he concludes that God has some other hidden purpose for himself. Perhaps it was this same mindset that consumed Satan and filled him with glee as Jesus carried the cross to Calvary. According to his own rules, he was winning the game. God had made a stupid move according to Satan’s skewed understanding of the rules. But God’s ways are higher and deeper (Isaiah 55:9), and his love is greater – even foundational to reality. In the words of the apostle Paul, “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…this love that surpasses knoweldge” (Ephesians 3:18-19). It was this love that was at work at the cross, baffling and overcoming Satan and his schemes. C. S. Lewis writes, “In self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives himself in sacrifice. When he was crucified he ‘did that in the wild weather of his outlying provinces which He had done at home in glory and gladness’ from before the foundation of the world” (The Problem of Pain p. 140). At the cross this love was made known most fully: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Tim Keller concludes, “Ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another. That is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about. If you favor money, power, and accomplishment over human relationships, you will dash yourself on the rocks of reality. When Jesus said you must lose yourself in service to find yourself (Mark 8:35), he was recounting what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been doing throughout eternity…You were made for mutually self-giving, other-directed love. Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made” (The Reason for God pp. 216-217).

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