This Sunday kicked off the new series at Park Church, “Everything: the Whole Story of God’s Love”. At the beginning of the sermon called “Love is Everything”, Christian joked that he hoped this was ambitious enough for the 9 weeks. One thing that became crystal clear to me as he unfolded the striking parable of the Good Samaritan: we could spend the next 9, 90, or 9 million weeks unfolding the love of God – and we still wouldn’t have enough time. As the song right before the sermon said, “the love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen could ever tell.”
But just because we can’t say everything, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say something.
And saying something about God is what theology is all about (the word ‘theology’ comes from the Greek words ‘theos’ meaning ‘God’ – and ‘logos’ meaning ‘word’). So I wanted to share what one of my favorite theologians has to say about God’s love. I think it’s especially fitting as a kick-off blog post to the kick-off sermon for this series.
In Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith, Hendrikus Berkhof talks about the heart of God’s character as love, writing,
“But the amazing discovery faith puts us in touch with is that in his condescension (note: a fancy way of saying “God’s coming down to make himself knowable & known to us”), God is above all the one who gives, the one who gives himself, the one whose aim it is to make man happy by making him share in the richness of his (God’s) own being.
In these last words we attempt to describe what is usually called the love of God. They denote what is most amazing, incomprehensible, and marvelous in all our human existence, namely that we are supported and surrounded by a final reality which we may call Love. With this confidence our Christian faith and our Christian existence stand of fall. Here we stand at the center of everything, and thus also of our study of the faith. Everything yet to follow will be an elaboration of this wonderful reality.” (p. 126)
The love of God truly is the ‘center of everything’, and ‘everything…will be an elaboration of this wonderful reality.’
The idea that struck me most in the sermon was what Christian said towards the end about the reason for God’s love: that God loves like he does because God has decided to. The reason that God, in Christ the Good Samaritan, comes down into this beat up and bloodied world, heals its wounds, picks it up and carries it, and pays for its restoration and redemption is because this is the kind of God he has chosen to be for us. God decided to make a good world where people were designed to live happily sharing in God’s own being – even if God himself had to suffer because of us. God decided not to leave his world – and his people – half dead on the side of the road like so many ‘gods’ do to us. God decided that even at great cost to himself – the greatest cost, when God gave his own Son Jesus Christ – he would not abandon the world to all that assaults it.
God decided to love like this, because at the heart of God’s being is love like this. It’s who God is. It’s why John can say that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). THIS is a “wonderful reality”.
Berkhof continues talking about God’s love, bringing out various aspects of it in 5 points (p. 130-1):
1. The love of God is the coming and bending down to us of the infinitely high God.
The Bible uses analogies to talk about God’s love: like a father or a mother to a child, like a husband to a wife, and like a friend to a friend. But even these biblical analogies cannot capture what God’s love is really like and how deep of a gap God has truly bridged. The road that the Samaritan crossed to tend to the half-dead man is only a small glimpse of the true length God has gone to restore us.
2. In this love, God acts freely.
God does not need us and our ‘friendship’ – as if God were lonely or incomplete without us. If God “needed” us then God would not really be God, nor would God be free. But God was free to create or not create us, and to destine or not destine us for friendship with him. It is simply out of an ‘overflowing’ of God’s loving grace that God made us and this world, the result of which is that God chooses not to be God without us. Berkhof states that, “Apparently he wants to be able to do nothing else than be our covenant partner.”
3. That in his love God gives himself to us implies that he does not deny himself in his turning towards us.
This just means that it is really and thoroughly God who loves us, and not a ‘version’ of God or a part of God – as if a hidden part of God wasn’t “all in” on us. No, it is God Himself who loves us. And that means that we really get to know God Himself.
4. In the Bible, it is as the one who loves that God is called a jealous God.
God created us for life in relationship with him, and God hates anything that gets in the way of that, like our sin, our resistance to him, and our turning away from him to other ‘gods’. God wants what is best for us, which is why his ‘wrath’ is against all that is bad for us. You’ll hear more about this when we learn that Everything Matters.
5. This jealousy is the negative side of the purpose which in his love he has with us.
His purpose with us is to heal us and restore us to life – eternal life, which is life in service and in fellowship with God. Thus, his purpose is to transform us so that we love others like God has loved us. This is the whole purpose of Jesus’ telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. First, for Jesus to explain what God was doing through him, and second, to tell Jesus’ followers to “Go and do likewise.”
And that’s the thing about God’s love.
It doesn’t leave us alone. It picks us up when we’re half-dead, heals our wounds, and restores our life so that we can love others too.
“We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Entry by Matt Agresti, Pastor of Worship & Communications at Park Church.