“I trust in the unending love of God. His passion toward me is forever and ever.”
Psalm 52:8 The Passion Translation
Despite all the songs, books, sonnets, and plays that have, over the course of centuries, featured love as their focus, I have come to believe that our experience of true love is rare. I certainly don’t intend for that statement to come off as cynical. I don’t feel cynical. It’s simply a realization I am coming to.
In my recent Bible reading, I find myself pausing again and again at passages similar to the one quoted above. Perhaps because verses about how much God loves us are so ubiquitous throughout Scripture (they are literally everywhere), it’s easy to give them the knowing nod of intellectual assent and move on to seemingly more interesting subject matter. That is, without a doubt, an accurate description of my life in previous years. There was no maliciousness in what I did; no intent to dismiss or diminish the truth of how much we are loved. There was simply so much I didn’t know about God’s love.
David describes a love that was not the experience of my life. That is not an accusation toward anyone; just an observation. It does, I think, reveal the poverty of my experience and understanding of the quality of love the Psalmist describes in the lyrics of his song. He is deeply affected by the eternal nature of God’s love, specifically for him. If love is not personal, I wonder if it is love at all. He uses the words “unending” and “forever and ever.” God’s love cannot be interrupted. No action or lack of action on my part can prevent the love of God from flowing in my direction. It targets my heart regardless of my response to it. I can accept, receive, abide in, ignore, or reject His love, but whatever my posture and response it does not affect it’s flow toward me. It is, most assuredly, as David describes: unending.
I don’t know how to think about that sort of love. I have intellectual and emotional limitations that hinder my ability from fully grasping the nature and extent of such a love. I live with warped perspectives and misshaped beliefs I have acquired through life in a broken world that causes me to see through a distorted lens. I have come to believe the highest goal for my life is learning, living in, and living out the love of God in this life and the next one.
An analogy comes to mind that I am hesitant to use (but apparently not hesitant enough not to use it). Janet and I have four grown sons. Through the years it’s been our experience that boys and dogs go together, so we’ve had our share of them (boys and dogs). I’m thinking particularly of the last dog we had as a family. His name was Bond. He was a rather big guy (60-70 pounds) and had a beautiful white coat with brindle spots and a ring around one eye. We always got admiring looks when we walked him. After our last son moved out, Bond lived out his remaining years with Janet and I.
I find it somehow comforting and joyous to remember him. He was part of our lives for over a decade. The point of this foray into my family history is that despite the fact that Bond was, at times, the focal point of someone’s anger or frustration; despite the fact he was, from time to time, ignored or neglected; despite the fact he was sometimes treated as an inconvenience and nuisance, he never showed any signs of having anything but love for us.
In moments when he was shown even the slightest affection, you would almost immediately find him sitting at your feet with his head in your lap looking up at you with those large, longing eyes enjoying the time and attention you were giving him. Any negative or angry mistreatment of him never deterred his desire to be with any one of us.
My intention is not to compare the love of God with that of a dog (thus my hesitancy to use the analogy), but it’s a rare thing, in my opinion, to encounter that sort of consistent, undeterred, genuine affection with another human being. It’s certainly not unheard of, but in this life it appears to be uncommon to say the least. Because we have experienced it so infrequently, if at all, we have no reference point for what an encounter with God’s love might look or feel like. Though that sort of love is described in the Bible, illustrated through it’s stories, and lived out through the life of Christ, none of those things guarantee my experience of it. My human experience has generally been one of earning the love and respect of others. Unfortunately, that laid the foundation for how I related to the love of God.
Thankfully, things seem to be changing for me (due entirely, I can assure you, to the grace of God). I am finding myself living in an increasing experience of God’s love. The Scriptures regarding His love are no longer nice sentiments but intensely personal notes from God’s hand to my heart. They stop me in my tracks as my heart considers and enters those living, loving words. I understand it at a heart level more than I ever have. At the same time, I also understand that His love that is yet to be experienced is an ocean compared to the little pond I am currently swimming around in.
I have no means or desire to measure where I am on the continuum of experiencing and living in His love. It is enough to live this moment and reach towards the next one. I am becoming keenly aware that my experience of God’s love is the experience people will have of His love through me. As my experience grows, so grows the expression of His love to others through my life. As I catch a longer glimpse of his “passion toward me”, others notice the perfume of that passion. Perhaps that is what Paul was referring to when he spoke of the “fragrance of Christ.”
Unending. Undeterred. Uninterrupted. And hopefully irresistible to all. The experience of God’s love becomes the fuel for living our lives. The lack of it brings any semblance of living to a halt.
And so Paul prays: “May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how long, how wide, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT