Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Unspeakable Love

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year B

Love is a big word. But do we use the word “love” lightly and casually in our daily lives? Perhaps we bandy it around so carelessly that its meaning has become diluted? Truth be told, the idea of “love” has become very common in today’s modern vernacular. We might hear someone say, “I loved that movie” or “I loved that restaurant” or “I love my dog.” In many ways, our everyday use of the word “love” has trivialised its meaning. The culture of triviality downsizes everything. Nothing really matters anymore. Until now you have probably only experienced conditional love. We grow up thinking and believing that love needs to be earned. Such conditional love is based upon what you do. Perform well on the job, on the team, or in the relationship, and you are “loved.”

Today’s readings remind us how big, how weighty, how profound, is true love, especially the love which the Father expresses for us. “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” That’s super mega BIG love. This is the greatest expression of God’s love! And this is the ultimate benchmark of all kinds of love. Who can fathom the depth and breadth of this love?

No words can describe it. There is no word in our human language that could ever convey to the human intelligence the immensity of it. We may try to encompass that gift with words, and call it great, ineffable, wonderful, incomparable, boundless, perfect, but none will do. Overwhelmed by the character of this love, St John tells us in one brief sentence that it defies definition, baffles all description, that it is inexpressible, unspeakable. “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.” The gift of His Son would have to be the proof and measure of God's love. We may consider it, but never comprehend it; we may know it, but it surpasses all knowledge; we may speak of it, but it is unspeakable; we may search the breadth, length, depth and height of it, but all dimensions and magnitudes fail to supply plummet or compass by which we may tell the extent of it. His gift is unspeakable.

This is God’s love. Not some warm fuzzy kind of emotion or sentiment. It is profoundly deep and complex. The Incarnation and the Cross; the suffering the Son had to endure; His sorrows, the suffering and shame of Gethsemane and Golgotha, the darkness, the woe, His death and shedding of his blood taken together is the answer to the question of the extent of God’s love. We see in these events, in the life, the passion, the death and resurrection of Jesus himself the voice of God to all men, speaking with growing intensity; it was God's utterance of an unutterable love; His love declared by His unspeakable gift.

I’m reminded of a Jewish midrash. According to this Jewish legend, at the creation of mankind, God consulted the heavenly hosts, the angels. The Midrash states, “When the Holy One… came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some them saying, ‘Let him be created,’ while others urged, ‘Let him not be created.’ The Angel of Truth argued, “Do not create man for he will be full of falsehood and deceitfulness.” The Angel of Righteousness added, “Do not create mankind he will be impure in heart and dishonour the name of God.” Which direction do you think God went? At the end of the deliberation, given what we know about God and the fact that we are here, I can just imagine him saying, “Let us create man in our image and when he sins and turns from the path of true righteousness, from truth and a hunger for holiness, I will gather him from out of the world and tenderly through love bring him back unto Myself.”

The gospel of today thus affirms the joyous and splendid good news of God’s immense love for us. It also provides us an opportunity to revise our understanding of the Justice of God. God’s love is in no sense in conflict with His holiness, His righteousness, or His justice. We see in the gospel that the decisive point is that whoever scorns God’s love condemns himself. God is not at all eager to condemn men. He is nothing but Love, Love that goes as far as the Father sacrificing his Son out of love for the world. There is nothing more for him to give us. The whole question now is whether we accept God’s unconditional love so that it can prove efficacious and fruitful in our lives, or whether we choose to continue to cower in our darkness in order to evade the illuminating love of his grace. If we choose the latter, then the description in the gospel fits us – we are those who “hate the light,” we hate true love, and we affirm our egoism in any form whatsoever, often mistaking such egoism for love. When that happens, as Jesus reminds us, we are “condemned already,” but by ourselves, not by God.

St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describes the extent of God’s love in reference to our unworthiness. It is unconditional. It is unmerited. It is undeserved. “God love us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved.” Thus our salvation is not something that we have achieved or could ever achieve by ourselves. St Paul emphasises that “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.

An unspeakable gift must produce unspeakable joy. Every earthly pleasure is speakable because it is temporary and conditional. But God's unspeakable gift of Love carries us beyond the confines of this realm, beyond the limits of time and space, and thus thrills us with divine joy, unspeakable in human speech. It is the joy of faith, the joy of love, not natural but divine. And strange though it may seem, this unspeakable joy goes along with the heaviness of the Cross. If we can understand this we should not be so afraid of trials and tests, indeed we should find joy in tribulation. On earth, trials and sorrow will be our inevitable lot, a light affliction nonetheless; but in heaven, we can only experience a far more exceeding weight of glory. All that is imperfect, and belongs to our present state of mortality, will be swept away by the power of immortality. And that which is humanly unspeakable will now be spoken because and heaven's language will become our familiar tongue.

So, we rejoice today; the Church joyfully raises her voice today; indeed the whole of humanity rejoices at the wonder of God’s love today. It is a love like no other love that you may have experienced. It is unconditional. It is unmerited and undeserving. No words can describe it except this - It is a love demonstrated by the greatest act of sacrifice – a Father who gives up a Son and a Son who give up his life. The secular world, who can never understand this offers us instead inferior copies and false imitations – a love that makes no demands, a love that does understand sacrifice, a cheap sort of love.  When it comes to love, humanity’s version is but a pale shadow compared to the truth of God’s love.  “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.” This is God’s love and it is this type of love that God would have us show to others.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.