C. S. Lewis & the four loves

love, l-O-v-E, LOVE…

“Enough already!” I groan inwardly.

But the Lord will have His way with His children and, as of this last week or two, His theme for me is love.

Unfortunately for me, this is one of those courses that I dread taking with God. The one I show up late for and cut altogether whenever I get the inkling to find something else to occupy time. I justify myself, or at least I try to, by doing the reading (in His Word) and the homework (in my Bible study workbook). The trouble is, I don’t want to have to sit in on the class and engage in it. I don’t want to have to look the divine instructor in the eyes while He guides me and disciplines me. You see, it isn’t the first time God has pointed out that I have some things to learn from Him about love, nor is it the first time I’ve tried to evade Him. This quote has stopped me dead in my tracks on many occasions when I come to the point where I must actually face that I’m running from God’s lesson plans on love.

C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

Yeah, when you put it like that, then I know I’m called into account whether I show up to class or not. In this season, I’ve been inclined to withdraw from fostering relationships with people. I do my job, work on my Bible study, carry out my responsibilities at home and in church, but I keep my distance otherwise. I’m contented when I’m throughly mentally engaged in a project or some reading. I’ve given preference to doing over being because it’s easier for me to do things and it doesn’t require much of my heart to press on in the tasks God has given me to do. At least, not the part of my heart that gets too emotional…

God has my number, though. He always does. So, I’ve been studying the gospel of John and the Johannine epistles. This time, I see John in a different light. There is more depth to him than I realized and his exhortations for us to grow in our love for the Lord and our love for others were born out of trials and questions and disappointments in his life, even as he was the beloved disciple.

Kierkegaard says something to the effect of ‘love the person you see and see the person you love,’ meaning that we often place great demands and expectations on the people we love that become the conditions for which we continue to love them. But, to be made more like Christ, we ought to love those people for who they are and really make the investment of knowing them. Any great changes that we would hope to see will come more out of love than out of withholding it. Sometimes we even discover that it was us who needed to change, not the persons that we love.

So, part of the application piece for me is having a renewed desire to love on my Lord, my parents, my church, my co-workers, and the other people that I cross paths with. Furthermore, in order to do this, I need to stick around long enough to receive God’s love, because otherwise I have nothing to offer. This is where I’ve been hung up lately, I feel the void, the nothingness, and I know I can’t fix it. I ask God to fix it, but then I don’t really want to wait and let Him do His work in His way.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

Love beyond human understanding

Today, we come to the miracle found in John 11, where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

As I read this story again, I found myself drawn to discuss a few points with you.

In verses 5 and 6, Jesus is noted for loving Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. In this text, there is use of both agapao and phileo, which suggests that His love for them related to their roles as friends and followers. Yet, there is something jarring as a reader to see that He loved them and then proceeded to stay where He was two days longer. Of course, once we know the end of the story, we can put everything in its good context. But let us not miss hanging in this moment to rush forward to the glory and the resurrection.

Aren’t there times in your life or in the lives of those around you that you are facing the tension of the truth that Jesus loves you and so when He heard…fill in the blank, He waited? Know anyone who has lost a job or a baby? What about a beloved single friend who’s still wondering if he or she will ever be married? Someone who has been stricken with painful illness or deep despair? Unexpected divorce or rebelling children?

I don’t know about you, but something in me as I read that He loved and so He waited is troubled by this. My heart and mind sputter, ‘What?‘ My first instinct is that love would lead to action…and quickly! But this is a story of expectation and delay. The Lord knows that this is an opportunity to grow His people in faith and to bring Jews to salvation.

When Jesus does show up, He mourns before He acts. It is in this that the Jews witness that He did love Lazarus. Even now that Jesus has arrived on the scene, He does not rush to the rescue. He pauses and grieves with those dear ones who are grieving. Some of the Jews said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (v. 37)

Don’t we ask this at times? Couldn’t God have intervened? The unsettling thing is that most of us do know that yes, He could have either prevented what happened or fixed it right away. Sometimes He does protect His people or fix things promptly, but then there are those…other times.

C. K. Barrett’s commentary describes the people as having an ‘inchoate’ faith. Their faith was imperfectly formed. Another passage I read interpreted that the people were sorrowing as those who had no hope. Jesus knew this and allowed the pause, the grieving, and the questions to come before He demonstrated the active aspects of love.  The resurrection of Lazarus is described as Jesus’ life-giving work put on display!

As a result, v. 45 tells us that many who were there believed.

Yesterday we talked about how God can use our circumstances to bring about His glory. Think about someone you know who might be wrestling with this theology that God loves them, but He also has permitted some hardship to come into their lives and He hasn’t hurried in to deliver them out of it. In what ways can these stories remind us of God’s bigger picture and His faithfulness and love that extends beyond our understanding?