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August 5th, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Inexorable Love

Over in the Facebook group “Ask Pastor Joel” there has been a discussion thread about church discipline. This a hard subject to discuss, and I thought I would shift the focus a little and put it in the context of inexorable love of God for us in Christ Jesus.  Here it is…

I have been thinking about this thread and have sensed a need to shift the focus to make a point. The whole idea of church discipline is hard for some people to swallow, and talking about “excommunication” or “shunning” is very very hard stuff indeed.

So I wanted to speak personally about the gist of the matter.

I think that the core of the matter is how do we view or understand the love of God for and toward us. Without question we can barely fathom the extent and depth of God’s love. It is this love that took Jesus to the cross; this love that hunts us down (as in The Hound of Heaven), and this love which will see us all the way to glory, and by that I mean to our destiny with glorified bodies in a New Heaven and New Earth.

In my theological tradition we affirm that God set his love upon his people when they were spiritually dead in our  trespasses and sins, with no hope whatsoever except in God’s love and mercy. With such a love He reached down and loved the unlovely to the uttermost.

When the nature of this love comes known to the sinner’s heart it is overwhelming. The mere knowledge of such love undoes us. But it is a lifelong process to really deeply grasp it, thus Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, that we would know the full extent of the love of Christ, and be rooted and grounded in it.

We can mistake however “love” for mere “acceptance.” This is a tendency in our day, and it cheapens the nature of God’s love.

God does not love us merely to save us from hell. He does not love us merely so we can remain as we are.

His love is like a refining fire. It is a love that will in time burn away everything in us not of God. His goodness and His love act as one, and he would not be kind to love us and then just leave us as we are. No, he loves us unto the very end, and the love with which He loves us is not just an “accepting love;” it is a transforming love.

God wants our good. His love proceeds unto our good. And our good is that we become remade in the image of Christ, that we put away all that is contrary to God and put on all that is in keeping with who He is.

This true of us individually and is true of us corporately.

God does us no favor if his love leaves us wallowing with the pigs in the mire.

And so I know that God’s love is a love that intends to transform me completely. Anything less would not be love; love seeks the good of the beloved, and the good of human beings is that they become what they were created to be in the first place. It is not to my good if I am “loved” and then abandoned to live in hate, malice, lust, selfishness, envy, jealousy, gossip, meanness, sorcery, idolatry, or divisiveness.

It is a frightening thing to come under the gaze of God’s love. It’s frightening if we wish to cling to the worst about us. It is either one way or another. With God’s love, which is full of mercy and grace beyond my highest imagining, I am destined to be changed, painful as that may be. Indeed, because God loves us He may have to break our hearts, allow pain and difficulty in our lives, do anything needed to bring about our highest good, which is that we become like Him.

And we will never ever ever stop loving us toward this end. He is our Father in heaven. He accepts us in Jesus Christ. But even that acceptance is not a mere end in itself.

In my better moments I deeply want God to bring about whatever He has to in my life to make me more like Him. And if in my stubbornness and hardness He must cast me into the darkness for a while then so be it. I want His light to shine into the darkness corners of my heart to expose the evil residing there, that so exposed it can be put away, and I can become more whole.

If this sounds a little like purgatory, which carries the idea of purging or cleansing or refining, then, yes, I believe that God intends to burn away that which is impure and unholy in this life. I don’t believe in the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, but they were on to something that contemporary Protestants have abandoned. We must be purged. We must be cleansed. We must be refined. We must be changed.

I will leave off this reflection with a quote from George MacDonald, quoted by CS Lewis in his anthology of George MacDonald readings.

“Nothing is inexorable but love. Love which will yield to prayer is imperfect and poor. Nor is it then the love that yields, but its alloy…For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving , it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected — not in itself, but in the object… Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.”

And so there is an ever present dynamic between God’s holiness and God’s love each bearing upon me. There is no such thing as the one without the other.

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