What does it mean to say that God is Love? Robert Mixa offers his reflection on the love revealed through Christ.
I have often heard it said that love is an illusion, and sometimes it seems to be so. Let’s not be naïve. I assume most of us have fallen in love thinking that we have found a love eternal, but, given some time, those feelings fade away, turning the beloved into an annoyance and/or the cause of much hurt. You do not have to look very far to see that the world is full of the remains of love. That is why the Christian belief that ‘God is Love’ is so shocking. How can God (i.e. the deepest reality of all things) be love if love seems to inevitably end in failure? And if God is Lord, then wouldn’t love have the last word? Although there are some people who refuse to love once they have tasted the poison of its failure, many of us continue to seek it, fully aware of its fleeting nature. But we are left with the ultimate question: is this a futile seeking or is there someone or something that will satisfy? Christianity is the revelation that there is someone who will not just satisfy us but surprise us. It is the revelation that God is the lover giving himself, in some manner, in everything.
On The Atheist Tapes, produced by the BBC in 2004, Denys Turner was asked by Jonathan Miller, ‘In what way and in what manner and what episodes of revelation bring it [the belief that existence is a gift of a loving God] to your consciousness?’ Denys Turner’s answer was immaculate:
“Everything. It’s either everything, you see, or simply not true. It couldn’t be in just some things. It would have to be that creation is like that. And therefore, it would have to be that everything is brought into the story in some way or another. That is to say, I wouldn’t want to be selective about it. I wouldn’t want to go down the line in which I said, “This reveals God but that doesn’t.” As if you could explain some things in these terms but others didn’t fit. That is intellectually dishonest. You’ve either have got to accept that everything in some way or another reveals God, including failure; and that is the most surprising thought which is why a central part of the Christian story has to do with the way in which failure works within this. If it weren’t the case that everything can be included in the picture of what God reveals, even catastrophic failure, the failure of love, the mystery that, as Herbert McCabe put it, “If you don’t love, you’re scarcely alive, but if you do love, you’ll almost certainly be killed
.” That’s the story of Jesus it seems to me. That is a totally inclusive story, which says, look, the whole lot, everything about it, is, in some way or other, a revelation of the mystery of love.
When we think that love is the most foolish and weakest thing around, we are told that it is the deepest reality of existence (i.e. God). Herbert McCabe says, “Christianity is a wisdom concerned with how to love oneself, and how to rejoice in being…and when Christians talk of God they are just talking of the fact that we are ultimately loved, that even if all other love should fail us there is a fundamental love through which we are. Christian faith is the belief that we matter because we are loved by God.”
But all that seems rather abstract. What is it that sufficiently fleshes out for us what love looks like? Christ crucified. The fact that God freely gave himself over to us to be crucified is the most profound revelation of the depths of love. The astounding thing about this is that it was not merely the “dumb tragedy” of a Jewish man two thousand years ago, but the saving sacrifice of God himself. This is so profound that the only proper response is a gaze of grateful adoration.
Christ’s love is not futile because it conquers death. His resurrection is the reason to believe that love will always win even though it almost certainly leads to our deaths. This is the paradox the world will never understand: that love, the act that we are most fearful of, is our ultimate destiny.
Therefore, Christ calls us to purge our minds of all our erroneous ideas of love and to conform them to the paradox of the Cross, for it is the crucible through which we must pass in order to be fully alive. Love that is based on fear and possessiveness destroys the self, leaving us in the pain of nothingness. But love that is based in Christ is given everything, for Christ is the unavoidable everything to which all things lead. If we walk his path of love, the path that the world sees as failure, we will be fully alive, and the world will be shocked to learn that this Love has the last word.
Robert Mixa is a Research Assistant at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.