We’ve been soaking in Philippians this fall, reading through it every week as a church, letting it seep into our pores. I’m awed by the love which pours itself out for me, becoming servant, becoming human, dying for me. Or at least I think I should be awed by it. In reality I’m not sure I understand it at all. I think if I did I wouldn’t find it so hard to rest in this love.
I’ve been asking God, “Why do I keep running from the love that You offer?” I’ve been seeing many reasons – fear, self-protection, laziness. . . and a need to know that the gift is given out of love which delights to give Himself to me, not out of obligation, benevolence, or condescension.
“It may well be that the fundamental suspicion which Christianity arouses is directed not against the disparity between its practice and its message, but against that message itself: it may be the suspicion that, when Christianity speaks of the love of God, it means something different from what it says.” (Vanstone, “Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense,” p. 74)
To believe we’re loved, we need to know our presence makes a genuine difference to the one claiming to love us. But God is complete in himself. He needs nothing. How can I matter to Him? Given His sufficiency, how do I make sense of the longing that I see in Scripture of God for his people, the longing that cries, “You have stolen my heart,” (Song of Solomon 4:9) and “How can I give you up?” (Hos 11:8)
I read a simple story, and it’s here I begin to understand the extent of God’s self-emptying love for me:
A family, happy and fulfilled in their own love, adopts an orphan. They do it not because they lack anything, not because they need the child to meet a need of their own, but out of the overflow of their love and a desire to share that love. But once the child becomes part of the family, the family feels incomplete without him. When he is absent, there is a lack. If he runs away, his absence brings anxiety and grief. He is missed. His goodness and happiness is necessary to those who have come to love him.
“In spontaneous love, the family has surrendered its own fulfillment and placed it, precariously, in the orphan’s hands. Love has surrendered its triumphant self-sufficiency and created its own need. This is the supreme illustration of love’s self-giving or self-emptying – that it should surrender its fullness and create in itself the emptiness of need. Of such a nature is the Kenosis of God – the self-emptying of Him Who is already in every way fulfilled.” (Vanstone, p. 69)
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thank you Carolyn.. this has me doing some deep thinking.. These new insights into love are stretching me. Love the quotes- very helpful. The idea that choosing to love endangers us.. it is precarious to extend love.. somehow this entices my heart to embrace the confusion & pain as to be expected… this feels surprisingly like a relief. Love is a generous outpouring of all the Love He is pouring into me and it is dangerous in its very nature. I think the relief is in seeing it as inherent in the loving..Where did I ever get the idea that it was safe to love?? How crazy is that? Perhaps the idea that if we choose carefully & love nice, safe people, then it will go well. In light of the orphan illustration it just totally shifted for me. I love those kind of gifts!! So, thank you for delivering this one to my inbox!! I have a feeling it will make me braver in some difficult meetings this week & softer with some difficult people, and more open perhaps less careful in sharing my story. That is big!hugs & prayers of His Goodness into your life!, nancy stack
Thanks for these thoughts, Nancy. Vanstone’s book is stretching and challenging my understanding of love too, both what God’s love for us looks like, and what our love for others demands. Like you, I’ve been struck by the risk involved, and I’ve also found that there’s surprising relief in it – maybe because it removes the fear of failure. We’re just called to love, not to guarantee a perfect outcome; true love CAN’T guarantee an outcome because that requires complete control of the other person, and love permits freedom and choice. Here’s another related quote from the book for you to ponder:
“. . . the authenticity of love is denied by the assurance of control. Love aspires to reach that which, being truly an ‘other’, cannot be controlled. The aspiration of love is that the other, which cannot be controlled, may receive: and the greatness of love lies in its endless and unfailing improvisation in hope that the other may receive. As aspiration, love never fails: for there is no internal limit to its will to endeavour, to venture and to expend. But as specific achievement, love must often fail: and each step it takes is poignant for the possibility of failure. A love which so controlled the other that it could not fail, or which limited its activity to those projects in which it could not fail, would be bereft of all poignancy, and would be exposed as falsity. Where the power to control appears in the guise or masquerade of love, we give to it, depending on the circumstances, such varies names as extended selfishness, manipulation, condescension or, at the very best, courtesy.
The precariousness of love is experienced, subjectively, in the tense passivity of ‘waiting’. . . . The ‘reward’ for which he waits is nothing else than the completion of his own activity – the response of receiving which is the completion of his own activity of giving.” (p. 49)