by Bev Mitchell
How should we imagine the love of God? We find ourselves in a wondrous, challenging and sometimes confusing world, yet as Christians we believe it is all the work of a God who is perfect love. This leads many like myself to want to know how perfect love works. However, given the truly unloving, even evil, experiences we and others have had, it is a wonder we can understand love at all. In the book The Uncontrolling Love of God we are challenged to think hard about divine love and many things directly and indirectly associated with it. I am challenged to explore what love of this kind implies regarding unity. Christ’s loving relationship with the Father was so close that he said “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30), and he even prayed regarding those who followed him, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11). In thinking about relational unity, how can a meditation on love help us grapple with the often unloving experiences we have in this world?
A loving God encourages and challenges us. A loving God convicts us when we act in unloving ways, contrary to who we are called to be in Christ. The Holy Spirit, however, is a gentleman (or a lady) and cannot push us around or override our will. We are free to act in a unified way in cooperation with others. We are also free to imagine we don’t need anyone and to live in opposition to Jesus’ prayer that we would be one. We become loners believing we can accomplish everything on our own. Additionally, we are free to believe goodness is relative and our actions toward others and creation do not matter. God does not intervene to stop these harmful decisions and behaviors. God cannot but lovingly honor our freedom. It is inconceivable that love would deny freedom to the one loved. Love and freedom are inseparable; they are unified.
If God, who is in God’s self a unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, calls us into oneness with each another through a cooperative life, then relational unity in creation is also an expression of God’s love. When we consider the biological world, for example, we see relationship everywhere – practically nothing happens without it. Atoms relate to one another to make molecules, molecules relate to one another to make properly functioning cellular systems. The amazing field of developmental biology (how organisms get from a fertilized cell to a fully functioning multicellular being) is a glorious symphony of relationships at many levels. Skipping over a great deal of intervening function to observe the highest levels, we are becoming increasingly aware of how whole communities of organisms are absolutely dependent on inter-relationships within forests, fields, rivers and oceans – even within our own bodies. For those who believe this is all made possible and sustained by a loving God, there should be a crystal clear message. Relationships are foundational for living systems. Thinking of and celebrating them as an expression of unity is important.
Relationship and freedom are foundational realities of God’s cosmic project of love. God’s love is as good as love gets, and we need much help in understanding what it really is. Therefore there is another foundational reality, and the most significant one. It is the incarnation of God, Jesus Christ. If we want to envision perfect love, all we need do is look at him. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus is the best teacher we have in our quest to understand love and its unifying ways of creating and sustaining the universe.
Relationship, freedom, and Christ.–these are a strong foundation indeed, but how does it all work? Does divine love look anything like the kind of love we can muster? The ultimate reality is the one we would never imagine. This reality had to be revealed with clarity. He calls himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. As for his love, if we accept the revelation of his incarnation, life, death and resurrection, there is no doubt he is the best evidence available that this idea of uncontrolling love is not entirely off track. The fact that we can understand the work of God in Christ, as explained in Scripture through the Spirit, convinces me of this.
Relationship, freedom, and Christ form a unified portrait of God’s loving interaction with creation. When taken together, they are supremely efficacious in helping us respond amid the hurtful experiences of life. Indeed, if we embrace the relational unity Christ prayed we would have, if we recognize the interrelated functionality of the created universe and pledge to live in harmony with it, and if we accept Christ as the perfect representation of God’s love in action, then we will be empowered to express this same love. We were designed in love to live free and relationally. Will we choose to live in unity? The Spirit of Christ stands at the door knocking, waiting for our response.
Dr. Bev Mitchell is Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at University of Alberta.