Seventh Sunday in Eastertide – May 20, 2012 – St. John’s, Goshen
“We have come to know and to believe the love God has for us.” Another one of those simple statements heard so consistently in the First Epistle of St. John, plain and simple, as if out of an awe that words have trouble expressing.
But what a remarkable statement it is, too! “We have come to know and believe the love God has for us.” For all of history that we can recover, human beings have asked questions in pursuit of ultimate meanings. “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “For what shall I live?” “Why is there pain and suffering?” “Is there something the other side of death?” “Why is there anything?” “Can the universe be trusted?” “Does it have meaning and value and purpose? Or is this a dumb and alien place so that we are the only ones who desire meaning and truth and value?”
Questions like this recur and recur in all the cultures known to us, and not just in religious works; literature, paintings, sculpture, buildings reveal how human beings have asked such questions and also how they have answered them. It would only be in modern times that it would be thought “enlightened” not to ask them and even more not to think they can be answered.
Today’s second reading gives the quiet Christian response: “We have come to know and believe the love God has for us.” There is a God, we say, and his relationship to us is one of love. He is not a distant God; he is as close as love brings one person to another, deeper within me, Augustine said, than my inmost self. He is not a fearful God, and the awe we feel is that of a person surprised to find himself loved, and any fear is fear of being separated from him. He did not wait for us to find him; he sought us even when we were not seeking him. “We have come to know and believe the love God has for us.”
“To know and to believe it,” St. John says, to know it by believing it. And it may often be difficult to believe it because it is not hard to encounter things and events and conditions that seem to run counter to a conviction of God’s love for us. Natural disasters like earthquakes, famines, tsunamis; manmade catastrophes, like war or genocide or slums; the suffering of innocents; the evils we suffer from other people; the evils we inflict upon other people. Things that Christians cannot and must not and do not deny because they are all part of the stuff of the universe and of the dynamics of human history, and because the God we worship has so entered into that history that he, too, suffered the worst evil it could inflict.
It is because of his resurrection from out of the grave of that evil that “we have come to know and believe the love God has for us.” The evil is not denied, no; but neither is the first word or the last word that must be pronounced over human life in this world. We have come to know and believe that the first word is love and so is the last word, a love stronger than death, as the Song of Songs says. The love we have come to know and believe is the love that brought us into existence, that calls us each by name, that is not diminished when we refuse him or flee from him, that inspires and guides our slow and stumbling return, that rejoices to welcome us home.
The very next verse in this Epistle is: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God in him.” Remaining, abiding, dwelling–the idea is one of permanence, like being at home. And it is being at home in love, because God himself is love, and he envelops us and this whole universe in that love. Love is our home, even here and now, and if we abide in it, dwell in it, live in it, then we can have every hope that love will also be our everlasting home.