So I guess what I’m saying is that this love thing. This love of God thing. This love of others thing. This God’s love for us thing.
It just plain swamps everything else.
Just plain submerges intellect and study and learning and discipline and being good and trying to be good and not being good enough and even sin and temptation and sinfulness and sin lists and sin management programs and church management and church fiscal responsibility and self-improvement programs and spiritual laws and the history of the church and knowledge of the history of the church and knowledge of Hebrew and knowledge of ancient Greek and orthodoxy and being right and Bible study and Bible knowledge and theology and dogma and doctrine and the creeds and all the rest of the religious life. All the accoutrements. All of that interior decoration of the Christian life. Under water.
Drowns it all completely. Buries all that doodadism. All that bric-a-brac. All those knickknacks that we sometimes focus our attention on in our Christian lives. Inundates all of this.
Love is the dramatic move of God into our lives. It’s the way he takes up residence in us. It’s how we know he really is here with us. In us. Among us. Apart from miracles and visions and words of knowledge and that sort of thing.
Love is the everyday way he lets us know he’s here. It’s available to us any time. Every time. All the time. And it’s reciprocal. In other words, the way it works is that we open our hearts. (I know this is metaphorical, but metaphor is the only way to get at this heart of God stuff. It’s the way he constructs language and experience and knowledge and being. It’s the way he’s designed the known universe.)
We open our hearts to him. We welcome him. We inwardly or outwardly or both acknowledge and thank him for his presence. His love. And what comes inside his love: his forgiveness, his generosity, his faithfulness, his comfort, his grace, his beauty, his beneficence. And as we welcome him in, his love comes flooding in. Miraculously flooding in. Burying us in his water of life. Burying who we are or were in his water of life.
Oh, I’m not saying not to read the Bible or not to study the Bible or not to read everyone from Origen and Augustine and Pelagius to N.T. Wright and Annie Dillard and John Polkinghorne. Or not to engage in energetic theological and Biblical discussions. Or not to wrestle with Paul or James or Peter. Or not to formulate your own theological and intellectual understanding of things. In fact, I am quite adamantly advocating all of this and much, much more.
But I am saying that all through this business of being Christian and understanding what this being Christian business is all about, that God’s love and the seeking of his love—his holy presence—and the expressing of our love to him and the radiating of his love outward from us and into the world is what makes the interior decoration possibly delightful. Possibly pleasing. Possibly enjoyable. Possibly possible.
Think of God’s love for us and our love for him and our love for one another as the architectural structure of our lives and our faith. Our faith-lives. And think of the rest of it as the interior decoration in that architectural structure. That home we build with God and one another in which to live and worship. And think of love as being composed of elements such as forgiveness and generosity and compassion and beauty and grace and gentleness and faithfulness and so forth, just as an architectural structure is composed of support beams and walls and windows and roof and floors and foundation and ceilings and so forth.
Please understand that God’s greatest gift to us is his love. And his love is not understandable through one metaphor or one coherent cluster of metaphors. An understanding of this is only approachable through a myriad of metaphors. A great wide variety of metaphors.
Which is why Paul is so difficult, in part. Because he is trying to compress many metaphors at once into a complex trope. His reason gives way, and he thinks with his heart, which reaches for a language to talk about God’s love for us and our love for him, and he comes up with locutions that are endlessly difficult and recursive. Locutions that remind me of the mystical language of quantum physics. Complex constructions that arise from powerful experience. Mystical experience of God. Experience that has blasted his intellect and shot it through with emotion.
But at the risk of mixing my metaphors, let me use another one. Love is also the way we understand God. The way we understand one another. It is the God-given instrumentality for experiencing one another and God authentically. Intimately. Genuinely. Who was that fellow? Martin Buber? The I-Thou guy?
The notion is that only through love can we hope to help God build his Kingdom. The Kingdom of God—the Kingdom of Heaven—which Jesus can’t stop talking about, is another way and a more powerful way (at least in the first century) of talking about the architectural structure that God has in mind for our lives. And the building material for this. The principal material out of which such a Kingdom or the New Jerusalem or the New Creation is built is something that is more powerful and more real and more present and more enduring and more glorious and more beautiful and more dazzling and more brilliant than anything in the current material creation.
And that immaterial super-material is love.