A word-image got embedded in my brain earlier this week as I was in school chapel. It was an image of God’s love and the fact that we cannot love God unless he 1. searches after us, 2. redeems us and 3. loves us. Only when we are loved can we reciprocate such a love. I John 4:19 is the verse that came to mind:
We love because he first loved us.
It is an incredibly simple verse, but as John often does with his short, witty phrases, it packs quite the punch.
Now, the three points I made to begin likely seem odd, and that is where the word picture comes in. The New Testament cannot be understood without the backbone of the Old Testament. It is the framework on which God built his Church and gave us Salvation. It was the Old Testament Law that he fulfilled through his Son on the Cross and it was the prophecies that he completed through this work. But all of the Old Testament is also inspired and useful in so many ways to us. Likely the reason why I love the Old Testament so much is because of the images and stories (which are historical) that bring to life many of the difficult passages of the New Testament (how in the world could we understand Hebrews without the Old Testament?).
As I thought about God’s love for us it dawned on me the reasons for why I could not choose to love God before he loved me. The story of Isaac and Rebekah came to mind. His Father brought him a bride and he choose to love her immediately. Genesis 24:67 gives a look into this strange account in the Bible,
Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
He didn’t even know who she was! One interesting thing that comes out of here is the fact that love is a choice. I would make the case that a person can choose to love anyone, regardless of that person’s character or qualities. Ever wonder how arranged marriages worked out so well? OK now, don’t go and try to tell me that marriages were worse back then than today. That is likely wrong, look at the divorce rate. Israel didn’t have a 50% divorce rate, even though it was legal to divorce. The fact of the matter was that people were taught and they agreed to love the person they married. It is a learned trait; it is a humbling thing, and a self-less thing to love another person.
For the greater part of world history marriage has occurred in this way: a man (by himself or through his father) observed a woman secretly and decided he wanted to marry her. He then went to the father’s house with gifts and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Bargaining would be done and eventually the couple would be married. The woman/young girl usually did not even know the name of her to-be-husband until very near the wedding, so she was miles behind in reciprocating any love. It was likely very difficult also to love someone unknown, and it probably felt more like a business deal than a love relationship! Yet this was how it worked, for centuries and centuries.
The interesting thing to point out though is that when the couple finally is married, the man is miles ahead–he may very well be at the point where he truly loves this woman. Yet she is trailing in the dust, maybe between distrust and disappointment and interest. And so the man must prove himself to his wife.
This directly correlates to Christ’s love for us as believers. Christ calls his church his “Bride” and we will be at the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”. Yet on earth it is sort of a form of courting or an engagement. This is in a modern sense, of course. And an interesting quote I came across recently depicted this precisely: “Christ is wooing a wife; not hiring a servant.”
Christ is trying to convince us while on earth to put our full trust and faith in him, to believe that he cares intimately for us and that he will bring us to heaven one day. It is a beautiful thought. Some people think that loving God and therefore loving Christ is done in service, as if we were Christ’s maid or slave. But this is ultimately wrong–a slave and a maid have to work, they don’t do it out of love.
Christ wants us to serve him out of love in the same way which he serves us (what we call “blessings”) out of love. But service is altogether secondary to intimacy with him. You see, Christ loves us and he has chosen to indefinitely. He loves us powerfully and “blindly” as it were. And this can all be compared to the old-time arranged marriages. Christ saw us and chose to love us, therefore he paid the price (not to Satan, here the analogy breaks down, but to his own Father) to be able to call us his wife. And for now he is patiently waiting his Second Coming so that we can be with him forever, and to, in a way, marry him as a church. This is why as Christians we are also called to await his Second Coming with expectation–it is what we hope for and dream of!
And while on earth we can be confident of our place as Christ’s fiancée, he paid the price (the wrath of God has been diffused) and we belong to Christ forever. John 10:28-29 shows this:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Truly when women and men enter into relationships on earth we are highly doubtful, and for good reasons, of the other person’s commitment and care for us. Both sides are flawed going into marriage, so steps must be taken, and precautions set up. But with Christ, he has chosen to love us even though he knows we will fail. Yet he returns over and over to rescue us from our position of helplessness and sin, just like Hosea and his prostitute wife.
This is the type of security we as humans dream of, to know that the person that we love will always and unconditionally love us. From a philosophical sense it is almost ironic. As humans we have lofty expectations for the other person in a relationship (friendship, dating, marriage, etc)–we want that person to be perfect. That person must fit all of our demands, love us at all costs, and be willing and engaged in fulfilling our needs. But we forget the “duh” part of the equation. We are hopelessly flawed and what we ask for of them cannot even be matched by us! Once people realize this they often fall-back and admit: “After all we are just two imperfect people trying to make this relationship work…”
But why do we have such high expectations for relationships? Because we were meant to be in such a relationship–one where the other person has us as the priority of their live, the center of their love, and the security of our heart. And Jesus Christ chose to fulfill this deep, inborn need, and only he can. Thank you Jesus for choosing to love me when I had no hope of loving you!
But that is not the end of the story, Christ wants us to reciprocate love back to him–this brings him joy and glory. Timothy Keller in his book The Reason for God brings out this idea very cleverly and insightfully. He relates that we were meant to love in the same way that God loves the Son. We were meant to love Christ and each other in others-centered and therefore fulfilling way. He calls it a dance, when we constantly circle around each other and in this way no one is at the center, but we all are constantly going around each-other. He says:
When we delight and serve someone else we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. This […] creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love [… Because] you were made for mutually self-giving, other-directed love. Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made.
And in relation to our relationship to Christ, Keller says:
God did not create us to get the cosmic, infinite joy of mutual love and glorification, but to share it […] We were made to center our lives upon [Christ], to make the purpose and passion of our lives knowing, serving, delighting, and resembling him.