VALENTINE'S DAY AND GOD'S LOVE
by Eric M. Stokes
"My beloved said to me, Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away. For the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the season of birdsong is here, and the voice of the dove sings in our land. The fig tree bears green figs, and the vines with tender grapes give a good scent. Arise, my love, and come away." (Song of Solomon 2:10-13)
February 14th is St. Valentine’s day, the day of romantic love. The celebration that now is St. Valentine’s Day began as a pagan celebration. Valentine’s is the season of chocolate hearts and declarations of love. Valentine's is when secret admirers become open admirers.
Inspired by love, the slow of speech become eloquent for the first time as they hide their love no longer, but declare it plainly to their beloved. The silver-tongued, declaring their love for the first time, begin to stammer. And the articulate, tripped up by love and nerves, find themselves at a loss for words. Sometimes these sweet, heartfelt declarations are rewarded by the delights of love, but often they bring the heartbreak of rejection.
Valentine’s Day is symbolized on calendars and cards with a heart pierced by an arrow. Around Valentine’s, each of us is reminded of the sweetness and the fierce pain that accompanies romantic love. Each of us comes to this day with different experiences of love, but we all have in common experiences and memories of the ecstatic joy and terrible sorrow that follow in the wake of love. Valentine’s speaks of the beauty of the marriage relationship when God’s perfect love operates between a man and a woman. The redemption by Christian love, and transformation into a Christian holiday, of an ancient pagan festival parallels God’s redemption of human love.
Though Valentine's is a Christian observance, too often at Valentine's the romantic love that is celebrated is a selfish, sinful love that really is not love. Christian love and the love of God are forgotten on this Christian day. Paul, in a famous passage, Romans 1:28-32, vividly describes the tragedy of human love gone to the dogs, ruined by sin and depravity rather than being vitalized and ennobled by God’s love:
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful; who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but take pleasure in them."
As we consider that the God of romantic love is the source of not only of romantic love but all of the loves, we understand that it is God’s love that upholds everything. "In him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28).
Space exploration and astronomy have opened a new window out into the infinite depths of space. To look upward at night with humility and wonder is to get a sense of the immensity, eternality, and absolute power of God. The creation account documents the creation of the stars with nothing more than a few casual, dismissive strokes of the pen - "He made the stars also". In light of what we now know of the cosmos, it is startling that the stars should be mentioned almost as an afterthought. And now we see that the Starmaker is still busy creating stars, because planets, stars and star systems have been observed in the process of formation.
In outer space, in all directions, and extending outward probably forever, with no border where matters stops and pure void begins, there are incalculable numbers of enormous bodies. There are numerous planets everywhere. There are stars and star systems being born, and there are stars and star systems fading toward extinction, and there are many other wondrous and incomprehensible things brought forth out of the mind of God.
These great bodies float like tiny specks over the surface of an ever greater sea - a sea of nothingness. Suspended from nothing and hanging above nothing, these objects rest and move in their appointed courses on a solid surface – the love of God. When we look past the laws of physics, we see the love of God. The same love of God that upheld Peter as he walked on a small inland sea upholds the vast universe.
In the beginning, God set Himself a God-sized task. He loved the immense task, and took immense pleasure in completing it. At last, He rested from His work and declared “It is good”. When the Herculean labors at last were done, the Artist loved what He had made.
As great as the love of God for His creation is, the love of God for humanity is infinitely greater. Peter briefly tasted the sweetness of this love, as profoundly as a person can in this life. The love of God allowed Peter to step out on a small landlocked sea in faith and walk toward his Lord - until his faith failed him. As Peter stepped out onto the water, Peter was walking on a sure and solid surface – the love of God. Peter and the universe shared the same secure footing – the love of God. When Peter betrayed Christ, Peter the man and Christ the God-man both felt the crushing agony that love brings to humans when love is ignored, betrayed, or spurned.
Christ declared "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me". God, who desires connection with all of humanity and every individual through Christ, ardently seeks out men and women, wooing them to Himself, but He never forces them. God - the greatest Lover - feels the greatest joys of love and suffers the greatest agonies of spurned love.
When the most brilliant of people, in rebellion against God, concoct cunning pseudo-scientific and pseudo-philosophical doctrines to explain away Christ and God, it is expressing the opposite of love for God – it is expressing a hatred of God – “...they did not like to retain God in their knowledge…”. It is a sophisticated version of Adam and Eve’s inadequate fig leaves. These pitiful garments are woven by the brilliant for themselves and then worn as hand-me-downs by the simple, but it is a case of the intelligent blind leading the average blind.
Rejection of mere human love has, on many occasions in real life and in fiction, led to revenge and destruction by the spurned lovers on the former objects of their affection. How terrible to spurn the love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and how terrible to endure God's wrath, the wrath of God against sin, and the wrath of God's spurned love! When God’s love is unrequited, separation from the very source of life, love, and pleasure in eternity is certain, and eternal penalties loom large.
God, the Foutainhead from whom all love flows, is a rushing River of love pouring love, life, and beauty endlessly into the world and upon humanity. Anything we receive, whether it is needful or pleasurable, is a gift from the hand of God; and the beauties of the natural world itself are gifts of God. God is the Giver and source of romantic love, parental love, family love, love of nature, love of music, love of colors and patterns, and love of art. Children are radiant, quirky manifestations of God's love. Wind and swirling leaves are gifts from God. Mountain vistas and pristine shorelines are blessings from the Lord. The rays of sun that sustain, warm, and and cheer us on life's way proceed from God's love.
The seasons flow from God's love, and reflect that love. Spring is a time of restoration, and a reminder that we can be resurrected into the life of Christ, through Christ's resurrection. Summer symbolizes the harvest that must be gathered while there is time, that more souls must be brought into the glorious kingdom of Christ. Autumn, with is varied brilliant, fading colors, and falling leaves, sings of God's descent to earth and into humanity. As the green leaves empty themselves of their 'life blood' and die in a blaze of multi-colored glory, so Christ emptied himself first of His heavenly majesty and then of His life - for our redemption. Winter is a time of rest from outdoor labor, and its austere beauty speaks of Christ's crucifixion and brief abode in the netherworld.
It was the love of God for fallen man, when Adam and Eve ignored God’s loving decree, that prompted Him to rescue the couple rather than wipe them out. Though He banished them from the paradise of Eden and severely punished them, His love sustained them. Though the creation account does not explicitly say so, it is virtually certain that God taught Adam and Eve how to survive in the harsh economy of the post-Eden world, much as a loving parent would reach out to restore a wayward yet helpless child. An obscure hint at this loving provision is found in Genesis 3:7-21. When man’s attempts to provide for himself failed ("And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." – vs. 7), God’s love filled the need ("Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skin, and clothed them" – vs. 21). The figs leaves symbolize man’s nakedness and vulnerability to God and separation from God as he stands before his Creator in sin, and the coats of skins made by God symbolize the all-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sin. It will clothe man in the righteousness of Christ if only he will receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
It was the love of God that led God to condescend to lie down in a dirty stable as a newborn. Our understanding of the Christmas story and the word “manger” has become sanitized, so that we forget the indignity and squalor suffered by the Divine in His quest to redeem man. God was born of a woman. As birth is a bloody, messy process, God was born into the blood and filth that go along with birth. The God-baby, Jesus, had to have his umbilical cord cut just like any other baby. Animals were more self-sufficient than God was as a baby. The waste of animals was close by to divinity, and the stench of animal waste assaulted the little Christ’s nostrils.
It was the love of God that allowed Christ in the prime of life and manhood to be scourged then nailed to a cross. The hymn says "He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set Him free." It was the love of God that held back the avenging angels, as they looked on with horror and fury at what Christ was suffering and upon those who were hurting and killing him, and the angels hovered ready wipe out the Earth. God's love held them back, in anticipation that many sons and daughters would be born again into His kingdom.
It was the love of God that allowed the blows to fall again and again and again upon his Son, the nails to be driven into the flesh of his Son, and the breath at last to mercifully leave the Son's body, so that God might have multitudes of sons and daughters. The love of God, that upheld Peter and sustains the universe, held Christ on the cross. The love which holds the worlds in place also resurrected and renewed Christ's body, and soon after the resurrection this same love eagerly embraced Christ and pulled Him back into heaven, able to stand the absence of the Beloved no longer.
It was the love of God that commissioned the Church to carry out the Great Commission, taking the Good News to all ends of the earth. Had God commissioned angels to be the bearers of the gospel, evangelization would have been completed quickly and perhaps more effectively. Excuses for disbelief in Christ would have been impossible or at least much harder to believe. But God loved the weak, slow-moving men, women, and children of Adam's feeble race. All of Adam’s children who are redeemed through Christ - along with their faults, fatigue, failure of intellect, loss of courage, psychological baggage, hang-ups, habits, neuroses, and spiritual inadequacy – are the messengers. These are the weak vessels which God chooses to pour out living water into a thirsty world.
Christ commands Christians to preach the gospel to all people everywhere – the gospel of the loves.
Copyright held by Eric Stokes.
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