Teaching college courses for nineteen-year-olds on foundations of faith challenged me to ask an essential question. What can I tell them of my faith, that will actually engage their attention, their imagination, and even their hope?
The Hope Within
To some, that may not sound like the first question of scholarly theological pursuits. But my purpose was urgently driven to articulate and share the dynamic hope that empowers our lives in a way that might actually move them to listen. I concluded I needed to begin by celebrating God’s love.
An Exhilarating Quest
You see, these theology classes featured students from more backgrounds than an epic novel. The Christian minority alone was of a wide variety: divergent denominations, enthusiastic, doubting, wounded by mean religion, some rebelling (some privately, some not so secretly).
Then came the atheists, who would readily enumerate abuses of religion except that I surprised them by doing so first. I found that many practicing Muslims exhibited genuine interest in hearing more about the original Jesus. I met many African-Americans, a skeptical native American, a respectful Hindu from India, a Buddhist-tending Caucasian, several immigrants. Some of Jewish heritage came with prominent memory of their Rabbi’s teaching on the Hebrew scriptures. Athletes moaned with me for missing opening day of the baseball season because we had to be in class. An immigrant child of the tragedies suffered by “the boat people” refugees from Southeast Asia blurted out the raw feeling that biblical stories of hope are “bullshit.” An apparent fundamentalist decried my description of Jesus’ kingdom-of-God mission in the Gospels because she did not think this follows Billy Graham’s paradigm.
The Heart of Faith
Initially, I felt myself thrashing around, grasping for an ingenious inspiration. Sharing with the world why we believe in a way that does not alienate people before the conversation begins is a daunting matter. Saying something diverse people may actually consider for their own faith and worldview presents a challenge of an impossible magnitude.
That is the point. What we say of faith truly needs to be that good! Good news is what faith is about. So I concluded to begin with God’s love. First, last, all through, knowing God’s love is the most essential sum of everything. God IS love! God’s love is unconditional. And God loves us.
This is the reality I am convinced of in my being, even when I still struggle with painful experiences. Why? In sum, the greatest truth proclaimed of God in all the Scriptures is that God is love. Most of all, Jesus fully poured out his heart and life to show us God’s love. On the way, God’s Spirit has made miracles of love happen in my life. And if you want to live something worthwhile that will do some good for people around you, loving people will do that.
God is love!
God is light; in God there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1, 4 (NIV)
Fleshing Out God’s Love
The one, true, living God is love. God has always been love, and always will be. And God’s love is unconditional. So, love is not just a bullet-point on a list of God’s characteristics – God’s nature actually is pure, true, and perfect love. Love defines all God’s actions. For example, the scriptures, especially as a whole, do not teach that God IS judgmental condemnation. Also, God is not both good and evil. Viewing God (or the Absolute) as both light and darkness, as equal impersonal forces endlessly vying for alternating preeminence, may be a Hindu or Star Wars worldview. Alternatively, by the Christian biblical view, God is love; in God there is no darkness at all! And if you want more of God’s love, you can turn to such scriptural passages as Psalms 103 and 117, John 3, Romans 8, all the Gospels, John’s first letter, Ruth, Jonah…
At the heart of all revelation, Jesus is God’s love – in real human flesh! Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, who lives out God’s heart, nature, work (see the scriptures of John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1). What Jesus shows us most with all his life is that God is love. And we know the God of love most personally through Jesus. In Jesus we are invited to receive freely God’s unconditional love for each of us. There is no condemnation for those who live in Jesus. Nothing can separate us from God’s love that is ours in Jesus (see Paul’s New Testament letter to the Romans, chapter 8). In John’s gospel chapter three Jesus reveals his purpose: To show us and give us God’s love. Then he gave his life to prove it!
Love is also the greatest gift of God’s Spirit – and so the heart of Christian faith, and hope, and living (see Paul’s first New Testament letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13). To believe God is to know God’s love for us (see John’s first New Testament letter). To know God’s love is to live by hope (see Romans 8). To follow Jesus is to live out his love – which includes sharing Jesus’ love with everyone (see Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5 and 22).
A Counter-Cultural Journey
Believing God’s love and loving other people calls us beyond many doubts, imbalanced traditions, comfort-zones, cultural distortions. For Christians, this is simply true discipleship: following in Jesus’ love. Through it all, love is a glorious adventure!
What we can offer the world most is God’s love. God is love, and God loves you, whoever you are. And in discussions with my students, for example, despite their real questions on the complexities of life, I do not recall a single one of them ever denouncing the idea or hope of love.
God’s love is a free gift. There is no risk in considering this offer. And to be true, God’s love will change your life – all for the good, forever.
Readers are also encouraged to explore other posts in this series: Waves of Renewal for Our Time.
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22