Man may spend the rest of his days trying to define what love really is. As I sit here pondering it, knowing that I have felt it towards myself and outward for others at different times in my life, its nature is so perplexing. It is something that creeps up on you and you instantly welcome its presence. And many times, you do not recognize it until it has already passed. This instantaneous love I have felt arrives when I live sacrificially; giving to those who need and do not ask. It is buried deep within and yearns to show itself. Human nature so often fights this urge though, and I often find that love is a choice. Someone once defined love for me this way. In one sense, it’s true. A sacrifice. A choice. No limits. No reward gained. So why? Why do we choose this path? And why do we sometimes fail to choose that path for a more conceited alternative? I wish I had answers for the complex bag we call free will and emotions. In the end, though, do we need answers? If we are to accomplish the goal God set before us to serve others and emulate Him, we may need more of the result and less of how we got there. We can just be. We can just exist. As God did before us, does now, and will forevermore.
I can experience love without knowing who God is. He permeates through us all, beckoning us constantly. Some of us may never hear it. But all of us at one point in our lives will feel the presence in this form of what we can only call love. As I have searched the scriptures, I see it over and over again. What the God of Israel, Yahweh, started in the Old Testament with His people, Jesus continued and expanded upon in the New Testament by defying our tendencies to be radical with our lives toward others. These are one and the same. The stories in the Old Testament are but a portrait of God’s unending, unfailing love. I see it so clearly here in Hosea 11: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” God then goes on to say, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me. my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” I can just see and feel the struggle. To be wronged by someone you love but overwhelmed with passion for them. Sometimes, the wrongdoing is too great, and as men we fail. “For I am God and not a man”. That phrase resounded in my head as I sat in silence. God knows we so often fail this test. Again and again He passes it. We see it fulfilled as Jesus dies on the cross for His people, His creation.
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”Deuteronomy 10:18
God urges us to love others. Deuteronomy 24 commands us to be there for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, the three groups we see so often in need; In the end, these Old Testament verses shout from the hilltops what Jesus is trying to tell us in the Gospels. He came for many reasons: to address religious corruption, to fulfill the law and words of the prophets, to show us what right standing with God looks like, and to show us how to live. To truly live. To enjoy life and the world to the fullest. If we are to find that end, we need to love and to be loved.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”Isaiah 1:17
But of course, this is all a choice. Jesus challenged the people of his day with parables like ‘The Good Samaritan’ on the topic of love and inclusion. The very people they would spit on, Jesus makes the hero of the story. The religious people that passed by the man in need were bound to their duties; Jesus isn’t calling us to be rebellious, cause anarchy, and be defiant against the very law that helped us. No, He’s challenging our priorities and our heart, the thing that reveals our intentions and defines our nature. He does this again to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 with the “Seven Woes”. I see heartbreak as Jesus calls them out on their actions and lifestyle. They read, memorized, and quoted the words of old, His Father’s words, but they never truly heard them. Will you die to works, self righteousness, and greed? Or will you die to friends, neighbors, and brothers?
“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen this?’ Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” -Ezekiel 47:6-12