The Profound Terror of Real Love

Christ is risen!

“Love is love” is a popular saying nowadays. When I was young, I remember the first time I heard the old euphemism of “making love.” Then there’s “all we need is love.” The list goes on and on. Most of the popular songs we sing are about love in one way or another. But the greatest line about love ever uttered is “For God so loved the world…”

It’s obvious we humans think a lot about love. And, as with most profound and powerful realities, getting love wrong has disastrous consequences personally and for society. Take a few of the phrases mentioned above. Most of them equate physical intimacy with love. And, to be sure, that is certainly one aspect of human love. But we humans have discovered the powerful truth that love has many manifestations. I happen to love key lime pie! But that love is very different (or it most certainly should be) from the love I have for my daughter or my mother or my best friend.

When love gets confused or misunderstood, love, like all gifts that remind us of God, becomes a caustic weapon that destroys instead of healing us. Love may be “a many splendid thing”, but love is also as dangerous as it is beautiful.

Look at our lesson today in John 3:16-21

The Lord said to his disciples: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.”

What a familiar passage. Frankly, I think this was the first Bible verse I memorized as a kid in Sunday School. And, if I remember correctly, the pictures my Sunday School teacher was showing us wee lads and lassies were of a sweet Lord Jesus sitting under a beautiful tree with flowers all around and children in His lap and standing around Him. And we sang “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I love this passage, but I’ve come to understand this passage in a much more mature way, and that mature understanding has made this passage much more terrifying! Ready to grow up?

First, notice this passage has everything to do with life and death. The introduction of the amazing truth that God loves the world is meant to save us from destruction. It isn’t meant to comfort us in a way that makes us at ease, but to rouse us to the reality of just what is at stake here. Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but those who don’t will perish and will be condemned. Oh, not by God, of course. No, the condemnation will be completely self-inflicted by those who misunderstand just what love is!

Notice, “he who does not believe is condemned already.” In fact, it is the misunderstanding of love, the misunderstanding about what God’s love is supposed to wake us up to, that mires us in the delusion of a too-small definition of love. Gripped by delusion, we reduce love to affection or a feeling of comfort, or a physical release, and when we do, we see this delusion lock us in the slavery of passions never fulfilled and always craving more! We reduce the terrifying warning of the truth that God loves us, to some silly and childish sentiment that actually prevents us from knowing true love! We condemn ourselves.

Second, the love of God, true love, is as different as light and dark. In fact, notice that God’s love that is supposed to free us from confusion and condemnation is contrasted with men “loving” darkness rather than light. And we “love” darkness BECAUSE our deeds are evil! What a powerful and terrible contrast between the love of God that sets us free and gives us life, to the false “love” of darkness that only feeds our narcissism and reduces love to the selfish lust that destroys us and our society. This sick and parasitic ideology destroys lives all the while we scream “I’m just living my truth” or “love is love.” True love never helps others stay sick and enslaved. True love rouses us to escape the darkness and flee the condemnation that always plagues those gripped by false love!

Today, our world is lulled into a dangerous delusion by a false notion of love. We Orthodox are directed to see love, not as an emotion or a feeling, but a Person. God IS Love and Jesus Christ is God! Let’s love others around us more than our own comfort or reputation and love them by both showing and declaring the true love that sets us free rather than the false love that only feeds our slavery and addictions to destruction. Being Orthodox on Purpose means embracing this terrifying love of God!

P.S. O Lord of Mercy, You have conquered death in all its ugly manifestations. You love Your creation and You refused to allow us to remain enslaved by mortality. Thank You for this undiluted love. I confess, O Lord when I contemplate this love, it is a terror to me because it is unrelenting and inescapable. Your love draws me to repentance and away from the darkness of my own selfish desires. Grant me, O Lord, Your strength to love You with all my life and love my neighbor as myself! Amen

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