Is God’s love all-embracing and affirming?

One of the big struggles I see in the Christian community is how do we best show love to others? This is something I’ve thought a lot about.

Growing up in church, I’ve often heard pastors and teachers say things like, “let’s show others God’s love” and “we need to love others like Jesus did.” Now that’s all well and good, but my question is how? How do we show people God’s love? What does that look like? This is something Christians are being forced to answer today as we deal with the legalization of same-sex marriage and its implications.

One thing I’ve learned is that Christians cannot start with the culture’s definition of love in answering the question of how we should show love to others. Pastor Kevin DeYoung sums it up nicely when he says:

God is love, but this is quite different from affirming that our culture’s understanding of love must be God.

This is quite apparent as our culture says that in order to love someone, you must accept everything that person does and believes in.

Our culture has framed the debate surrounding same-sex marriage as you must either accept and celebrate it or be forever labeled a homophobe and a bigot.

DeYoung challenges this by saying:

No halfway responsible parent would ever think that loving her child means affirming his every desire and finding ways to fulfill whatever wishes he deems important. Parents generally know better what their kids really need, just like God always knows how we ought to live and who we ought to be. Christians cannot be tolerant of all things because God is not tolerant of all things. We can respect differing opinions and treat our opponents with civility, but we cannot give our unqualified, unconditional affirmation to every belief and behavior…

So, how do I show God’s love?

The Apostle John described it this way:

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. (1 John 4:7-11 MSG, emphasis mine)

This is a key point to note about God’s love. God’s love confronts and deals with sin. God’s love ultimately seeks repentance and redemption. Therefore, in order for God’s love to be fully realized, the error of a person’s ways must be dealt with.

But God’s love not only dealt with sin, it suffered for it.

The greatest act of love a Christian can point to is the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus died an excruciating death so that we could be made right before God. The point of that act of love was to deal with our sin – our errors, mistakes and shortcomings.

In this way, when Christians warn people about their sin, it’s not to condemn. It’s to redeem. It is to point people to a better way of living. If sin is a cancer, God has provided the cure for us. Christians are those who have chosen to take the cure and we want others to choose to take it as well.

Loving people in this way is harder. It’s easy to affirm someone’s choices and move on. There’s no conflict; but the reality is it creates a false sense of love, connection and community.

As Amy K. Hall says:

Loving [God’s] way involves effort, sacrifice, and sometimes even suffering. But how can we do less when the love of God suffered for others?

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