God is love
I wonder if, like me, you can still remember seeing the image from a few years ago of a little, lifeless Syrian refugee boy washed up on a beach, and of the police officer who carefully lifted and carried him away with such compassion?
Could one suggest it is like a parable of the love of God reaching out to each of us, whatever our condition, lifting us up and taking us to himself? We know that, whatever their beliefs, most people are stirred to the depths of their being at such tragic scenes, where we can imagine Jesus “being filled with compassion.”
God is love
Sadly, encountering such scenes is not uncommon for our peacemaking teams, and it reminds me that compassion is a major driver for us in our work, and an important component of love more generally.
In the New Testament, John’s first letter tells us twice in chapter 4 that “God is Love” and that all love comes from God wherever we find it. Christians do not have a monopoly of love, as we can realise from our own behaviour. Rather, we could say that God has the monopoly of love, since love originates in Him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This great statement “God is love” says far more than ‘God loves’ or ‘God is loving’. Love cannot be defined, otherwise we would be able to define God, who is Love: the Greek word most commonly used in the New Testament for love is agape, which has to do with the mind rather than the emotions, and which wants the very best for the other person.
This understanding of love is core to the work of any peacemaker. We receive and reciprocate love, and learn what it means to live in the love of God and in love towards others – our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbours and those we find difficult to get on with – some may even call them enemies.
God in creation, making human beings in His image – a major act of love – included in us a capacity to love, however spoiled that may have become. And wherever we go, from Cyprus to Uganda and from Ghana to Brixton, we find love amongst every tribe and in all different sorts of people within those countries and communities; in the lives of Christians, Muslims, humanitarians and everyone else, that love derives from God in whose image we are made.
Jesus’ love for us
But as Christians, our capacity to love does not only come from God in creation. Loving the world so much that he gave his Son for every person in it, shows us the sacrificial nature of his love in giving himself to die for all of us, even though his love is undeserved by us.
As we relate to Jesus and live in His love, we will increase our own capacity to love. It is therefore fundamental to the life of any CHIPS team to pray, worship and read the Bible together. This enables us to increase in love towards those with whom we work and all those whom we serve.
We also acknowledge the transformational rôle of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised His disciples He would send, in our communal life. He produces the fruit of love and pours out love into our hearts. Love, like peace, moves and flows from the Holy Spirit, increasing as we give and receive it.
Learning to love
God loved us so much that the experience of being loved by Him softens our hard hearts. God’s love in Christ is even able to deal with our sin, reaching the deep places within us where those bad things come from. His love can cool our anger and remove our hate; satisfy our greed and even our lust; can distract us from jealousy and envy and make us content with what we have. His love can undermine our pride as we become immersed in Him and the values of His kingdom.
John’s letter makes it clear that our response to God’s love for us is first of all to love others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
We learn that one of the effects of love is to overcome fear, thereby providing a test of how our love is maturing. If we are in love with God we will not fear judgment nor will we fear death, nor those who make us feel threatened.
We love Him not only because He first loved us, but because we have discovered that His life of love in us has transformed our lives, helped us to improve relationships, to banish our fear and even to make friends of our enemies. And when times get tough – whether in our projects in Brixton or Ghana or our own communities and personal lives wherever we are – we find great comfort in the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even human love can sometimes die, but God’s love is inseparable from us.
As we reflect on these amazing facts, our hearts are full of “wonder, love and praise.” God is love – the heavens declare it. God is love – let earth rejoice.
Elfrida Calvocoressi, Chair of Trustees