Love is a terrible thing, especially when that love is God’s Love.
God’s Love reveals to us that we are without love. This is the first and most foundational lesson to learn if we are earnest about pursuing God, God’s will, and God’s Love.
What we consider love, the natural loves of family, friends, and tribe, turn out to often actually get in the way of loving God. Familial love is a beautiful thing, but it is also often an idol. Tribal loves — from two or three friends to modern nation-states — offer us false identities which overtly clash with obedience to our calling in Christ.
God’s love is patient beyond all understanding. But it is also uncompromising. He cannot compromise His own Character or Perfection.
We are rarely serious about loving God. In some of Jesus’ final words to the disciples, he said this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” None of us can claim we have done this. Therefore, none of us love God — at least love Him as He loves us.
Yet John writes, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” [1 John 2:3-6, NRSV].
God isn’t much interested in comparison shoppers, the sort of folk who browse beliefs the way a glutton cruises a grocery store’s food aisle. Interested in “religion”? God’s not interested in your interest.
We don’t come to God full and self-confident; we come to God empty and filled with self-doubt. We do not come to God with our god-narrative already constructed, our theological ducks in a row, our righteousness confirmed. We come to God unsure of everything and everyone, our theology in tatters, our brokenness and failure the one surety we have.
We don’t come to God as secure members of His Chosen People, a tribe and nation-state kissed with His special blessing. We come to God as solitary wanderers, members of a rebel race with faces hard-set against true Love and cursed by our own continual choices against Him.
We don’t come to God as people who are better than our neighbors and with enemies who are God’s enemies; we come to God as outcasts and moral lepers whose enemies are as loved by God as we, God’s enemies ourselves.
We don’t come to God as equals in any respect at all. We come to him, in the end, because we realize that despite our complete moral poverty there is hope in the Character of God Himself. We do not love Him… He loves us.
Everything begins with God. Obedience is no different. Obedience must begin in God, and therefore begin in Love.
The price of obedience is to let go of being “good” in and of ourselves. I cannot be good. Even my best is shot through with imperfection, cloudy motivation, brave beginnings and wimpy ends, unforeseen consequences. Righteousness is alien to me; I do not have it and cannot ever have it. “Unrighteous” is my natural state.
My own goodness is a block to God’s Love. This is an especially painful lesson for those of us who are religious already, who think we are in relationship to God and therefore have His stamp of approval.
We want God’s approval, but on the condition that we get to do what we want to do. Even if what we want to do is to be righteous in and of ourselves…
God’s approval is not won that way. Rather, God loves us with “Agape” love, a special form of love which on one hand is as simple as the love of a parent for a child. The child need “do” nothing; she is her parent’s child! That is one way to see God’s love. But another aspect of Agape is that it is alien to all human beings; we do not have it. It is God’s alone.
How do we obtain this love?
We obey God.
We obey God as His child, knowing that He loves us unconditionally and joyfully.
But we obey God as a sinner, knowing that our own nature is one which by default rebels against obeying God when it comes to our own self-pleasures.
We obey God with confidence, knowing that if (when!) we fail at times, his Grace is sufficient to forgive and restore us to the disciple’s walk of obedience. John writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” [1 John 1:8-10 NRSV].
But we obey God knowing that disobedience does have consequences, not only for our own lives but also for the lives of those around us. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” [Galations 6:7-9 NRSV].
What is the goal, then, of obedience? My righteousness? Emphatically not. The goal of obedience is intimacy with God, an intimacy which in and of itself brings the Love of God into a human heart then flows out through that human’s words and actions to all around her.
We must give up on the “righteousness project.” We do not pursue God to become righteous, or to be obedient. We pursue God to enter into God’s Presence, to find and be immersed in His Love. He will always be the Pursuer, yet he desires us to pursue Him!
This pursuit is a pursuit rooted in obedience.