GOD IS LOVE
Unpacking one very powerful phrase
“Describe your God.”
One of my friends baited me into this. I was sitting in a nearly empty theatre. I had agreed to help some guy I met through a friend with an ethnography project. He wanted to see how people’s worldviews with regards to a certain topic were affected by their belonging to a certain demographic. He wanted to find out what Christians thought of global warming. The interviewer was strictly business, presenting his questions with a straight face and stone-like demeanor.
“Describe your God.”
That was his first question, and I suppose it was a pretty good place to start. I was with five other people who decided to take the same interview, and I was slated to give the first answer. As good as his question was, it’s a pretty big one to have to answer. After all of my experiences and the evolution of my faith, what could I possibly say to do justice to who God is? He would be too unfathomable to even start.
“Love,” I responded.
I was pretty pleased with myself. God is Love. I couldn’t think of any better way to put it.
“Would you elaborate on that please?”
While I was quite happy with the poetry of my one word answer, I suppose it wouldn’t have been very helpful if this guy had to write a full research paper based on that response.
“I hear a lot of people say that they believe in Love. I think I get what they mean. The world can be chaotic, and crazy sometimes, but every now and then you’ll experience something, like the warmth and security of a relationship, or the care and affection between a parent and child that just seems to make sense in the midst of nonsense. People often call that Love. They say that it’s hard to find something absolute, something universal. All they know is that there is Love. I feel the same way, although I think Love is a lot more than just some emotion. I don’t think of Love as something. I think of it, as someone.”
The god that was created by years of pop culture, flawed human interpretations, and political agendas can appear to be so different than the God of Love. That god, most unfortunately, is probably what most people think of when they hear someone else talk about God. It’s an extreme shame. God is Love, a crazy, intense, relentless, unfathomable, genuine Love.
My friend Ricky puts it quite poetically:
“You’re something of a mystery; the way mankind obsesses over You. You take different forms to different people yet You are still the same. To the fatherless, the outcast, the shamed, you do not exist. They have yet to find You; to comprehend what You are. To the ones who have experienced You, You are the most powerful beautiful thing to happen to them. You appear as something that should be attained by the Christian, something that should be fought for by the Muslim, and something that can be created only by man to the Atheist. You are the basis for all things beautiful. You are the basis for our existence. You are the answer to life, to the universe. Our reason for living can always be traced back to You. We, in our flawed beings, try our best to search for You. We bastardize the thought of You into movies and literature. Twisted images and ideas that we interpret You to be. Sometimes we come close to understanding who and what You are. We are but fools trying to describe you with religion, with laws, with flawed hearts. We put You in a box and unsuccessfully try to tell describe You. You are never far away from us, yet only a handful of us will ever find You or understand your identity. i chase after facades of who You are in hopes i will find meaning. i know where to find You, but i am twisted. i am a fool. i have become a prisoner to false illusions of You, forgive me. i have eyes in my heart, given to me by You, that are now being opened to Your existence. You are a Deity in heaven that would blind me face on, i am thankful for the powerful glimpses You give me. i see You now in actions. i see You in thoughtfulness. i see You in truth. i see You in literature, in music, in her, in him, in friends, in family, in creativity, in breath. i will always be imperfect for as long as i live, i will never fully comprehend You or Your power. But my heart has realized, You are no mystery… You are Love.”
I remember a time of being in complete awe of God. I was just caught up in this massive, overwhelming wave of something pure, something that transcended life, and something that was so true and trustable. It felt like ultimately, the whole world would be fine, in spite of all the tragedies and terrible things that continued. It felt like at the bottom of everything, life was ultimately good.
I remember one night in Santa Barbara. It was in December of what had been the greatest year of my life. I was at a Christmas party and I remembered a friend told me there would be a meteor shower that night. I told my friends Danny and Hallie, and they decided to accompany me. At 1:30 in the morning, we drove up to Lizard’s Mouth, an elevated point along the Santa Ynez mountains. We drove through an archway of trees that looked like something from a fairytale book while Beatles classics played very softly on the radio. We got up, and a thick layer of fog rested over the city, trapping its lights like a blanket traps body heat. You could see the glow of Isla Vista and downtown Santa Barbara, although you would much rather be staring upwards. The stars were incredibly bright, and you saw more than you ever realized you could. I was just so amazed by the outcome of an incredible year, paired up with gorgeous scenery to backdrop my life. It felt so unreal. I laid on a rock next to Hallie and Danny. None of us said very much; there wasn’t much to say. Stars fell often and far. I watched as they shot across the open space. Beauty can be paralyzing.
I remember one night I was sitting at the back of Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre, listening to my favorite artist perform live. Sufjan Stevens had been a recluse for many years, so seeing him on tour was a dream-come-true that I never expected. I went with my friends Daniel and Meaghan, but due to my failure at purchasing concert tickets, we were seated scattered throughout the theatre.
I remember his encore, as he played Chicago, a song with a special place in my heart. The chorus hit, and its lyrics felt like a muse was singing out the story of my life. God having to take from us, so he could recreate us into something new. Something better. The opening notes were chilling. I felt a wave of happiness take over me- not just happiness, but genuine joy, contentment, and satisfaction. I was at a wonderful place in life, surrounded by amazing people, and I was able to see hurts from my past in a new light that made sense. Whatever this was, it felt like it was part of the one thing in life that really mattered.
These feelings aren’t even limited to the high points in life. Sometimes you can catch just as strong of a glimpse at Love in a really simple, everyday, moment.
I remember driving myself home from a Freelance Whales concert. None of my friends were free that night to go see them with me, so I went by myself. I had a great time. A local ukulele duo opened the concert in a small, guitar shop by playing on the floor like it was kindergarten story time. The band itself wowed me with their musicianship. Afterwards, I got to talk music with the lead singer, and we had a great conversation. I drove back home and stopped by the grocery store along the way. There, in the ice cream aisle I realized how happy I was, and how secure I felt. I was completely alone, and not one ounce lonely. I felt like life made sense and it was good.
I remember living one block away from the ocean. I remember that one spring, I resolved to start each of my days by waking up earlier, and going on a morning walk alongside the bluffs that plummeted twenty feet into the Pacific Ocean. I remember each of those walks, praying, reflecting, as I would walk to the edge of the cliff, and lean over against the fence, watching waves come up to lick the shore. These were important moments of stillness for me, and the calm bonding time I spent with God was irreplaceable in the middle of one of the more chaotic seasons of my life. It was there that I found inspiration and comfort.
One of those mornings, my plans were seemingly thwarted by heavy rains. But I enjoyed these too much to give up that easily. In the midst of a lightning storm, I went out for a walk in the rain. Back out to the bluffs, to see the ocean in the midst of chaos looking as powerful as ever. And completely soaked, I also felt completely satisfied. Lightning struck rampantly. I was pretty sure that this wasn’t a safe activity, and yet safety seemed like the smallest concern. I saw both my past and future as bookends of a work of art. It’s a fruitless effort trying to explain it adequately, but it was an overwhelming contentment. I continued my walk into a coffee shop, bought a latte and returned home to change out of wet clothes and to sit underneath a warm blanket.
It probably comes across as pretty warm and fuzzy, but those are the moments that make up life. Whatever I believe in must acknowledge those moments, and whatever it was that I felt during those moments. What exactly was it about those moments I felt truth brush up against my skin and saw light everywhere?
It’s not even in just those high points. I don’t just get this feeling in meteor showers and Sufjan Stevens concerts.
I was in New York for a conference when I got a phone call from my mom.
“There was an accident,” she began the sort of phone call that nobody wants to receive. “Your friend... Jeremy.”
Within three days of receiving the call, I flew to San Diego. Jeremy had recently enlisted in the Marines and was waiting for the time to come for him to go off for training. Shortly after telling me the good news and about how excited he was to begin Marine life, Jeremy gave me a phone call asking for a favor.
“I’m applying for a job while waiting,” he informed me. “The San Diego Food Bank. Is it alright if I use you as a reference?”
One day at the food bank, Jeremy was operating a forklift. In what can only be truly described as a freak accident, he lost control and was pinned.
“He’s alive, thankfully,” briefed my mom over the phone. Words that you are both thankful to hear, and yet words you never want to hear at the same time. “But... his foot was severed.”
When I saw Jeremy in the hospital on an Easter morning, I saw the stuff nightmares are made of. Whenever you see a group of longtime friends all gathered in the same place, you never want it to be because of an accident. I saw his dad talking to one of his friends. I had known just about everyone in this room for a long time. I saw my mom talk to his mom, a familiar sight since our days on bikes and in carpools. She held a straight face in the room, but when a nurse had us leave for a few minutes to take care of something, the tears ran in the hallway. No mother ever wants to see her son in a hospital bed facing the possibility of losing his foot. She saw his first steps. She might not have seen anymore. While in her tears I saw her pain, I also saw an immense Love she had for Jeremy. It might as well have been her who was injured. Her Love stuck out like a candle in a cave. I noticed all of the friends Jeremy had who were also gathered in the hallway. Jeremy always had room for another friend. Here, in the midst of calamity, they all were gathered as a testimony of awesome friendship.
The day my mom had a miscarriage was a devastating day for our family. She had been anticipating the pregnancy for a while. On top of that, one of the things Rob wanted most, that he prayed for every night, was for a child. Given his prior health issues, there was a time when it seemed impossible, and it finally looked like those prayers would be answered. All of a sudden it ended. It was undoubtedly hard on both my parents. However, their Love for each other showed like never before. They were there for each other when it would get difficult. They knew they were up against a challenge, but they were against it together, and that made all the difference.
One time, I was in the Philippines just a month after a major flood hit the island of Iloilo. There were many casualties. Areas that were already poor were hit hard, and makeshift houses were leveled. The streets were lined with piles of garbage and debris; there hadn’t been enough time to properly sort through the damage. There was a lot of loss, and it was an incredibly tragic event. In the middle of it all, I saw five kids, only one of them wearing a shirt, playing. They were running around chasing each other with sticks. One of my favorite things about going to other countries isn’t just seeing what’s different in every part of the world. I love to see what’s the same. The way kids play with each other always looks the same. Their pure joy and friendship stood out. It was unmistakable.
We can sense the light of Love during high points and beauty, but it’s still present in the middle of tragedy and hurt. It’s simply there. It gives hope, it’s bigger than death, and it has the last word. It makes us realize there is way more going on in this life than we can fully understand. It’s like even in the midst of darkness, it’s a light that never goes out.
This feeling isn’t exclusive, and it brings me such great joy to see others come to notice that there is something safe, and true, and good at the bottom of everything. I can see it between Jeremy and his mom. I could see it between Brian, an old roommate of mine and his girlfriend. They knew each other since kindergarten and were on pace to grow old together. I saw it between the woman who hosted us and her adopted daughter. They had only been together for four years, but you would never be able to tell. I see it all the time, when people realize that they’ve found someone who makes them happier than anybody else.
This is the sort of feeling that makes you feel like something holds this life all together. Someone holds this life all together. Someone good and true and safe and pure. A lot of people stop too short in considering love to be an emotion. Love is far too strong and too active to simply be an emotion. The Valentine’s Day definition of love is really just a cheapening of it. God is Love. Love is perfect. It is simple, yet unfathomable.
I remember one night at Kickback Church, when we were discussing the Bible verse that says that God is Love. It doesn’t happen very frequently where the Bible says something that direct, simple, and explicit to describe God. An unending debate in the world of philosophy is whether to be is to do, or to do is to be. Whether a person does things because of whom he or she is, or whether a person is defined by what he or she does. With God, it makes no difference. God is Love, and God Loves.
“It makes sense then, that we’re supposed to be fully loving,” concluded this guy named Taylor, sitting on a keg.
“It’s a very simple concept to mentally grasp. But to put it into practice the way God wants us to is going to take a lifetime to perfect.”
Concepts like light and heat help us understand this Love. They are active, and not static. They are always in motion, and as energy, they cannot be created or destroyed. Also, there is no such literal thing as darkness or cold. They simply refer to the absence of light or heat. You can’t put out a light by adding darkness, but light drives out all darkness. In that same way, evil, badness, sin, and malice, are all simply the absence of God. Every time people’s human rights are violated, it happens in the absence of Love. Rape, murder, and abuse, are all in the absence of Love.
We were made to thrive off Love. Psychologists consider Love as essential to life as food, water, and sleep. Our world often times undergoes a lot of pain as a result of a shortage of Love. It’s like seeing a place with a food shortage. The poor quality of life is a result of a lack of food, but the food that is available sustains the life that exists. In order for us to truly live as God intended, we need Him. He is Love in the purest form: unconditional, unlimited, and unfathomable.