We love because God first loved us by Henri Nouwen
In the arena of life, we are surrounded by:
We don’t have the luxury:
- To isolate ourselves
- To opt out of the competition
- To give up
In the midst of such an environment, what sort of spirit have we developed within our souls? Is it a loving spirit or a loveless spirit?
A loving spirit consists of LOVE, where “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; Love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 TEV)
And a loveless spirit consists of:
- Bad temper
Think about it, a loving spirit gives us the ability to make our family and others happy and in the process brings joy to ourselves. How? A loving spirit goes out of the way:
- To give pleasure instead of merely trying to please
- To do kind deeds instead of looking after number one
- To do a good turn instead of waiting for one
- To give cheerfully rather than to receive
- To serve gladly instead of being served
- To share generously our knowledge and time instead of grudgingly
Where do we stand? It is likely that most of us, in our daily living, are nearer to possessing a loveless spirit. But we do want to make our spouses, ourselves and others happy. So there is in most of us a desire to sweeten, purify and transform our loveless spirit into a loving spirit in daily life. Can we do it by our will power or with time or with the help of religion? Yes, but it can be a very slow process and we are more likely to give up before achieving our goal of possessing that loving spirit.
But the Christian religion advises: ”We love because God first loved us”(1 John 4:19 TEV).
Father Henri Nouwen asked, “How do we know that we are infinitely loved by God when our immediate surroundings keep telling us that we’d better prove our right to exist?
The knowledge of being loved in an unconditional way, before the world presents us with its conditions, cannot come from books, lectures, television programs, or workshops. This spiritual knowledge comes from people who witness to God’s love for us through their words and deeds. These people can be close to us but they can also live far away or may even have lived long ago. Their witness announces the truth of God’s love and calls us to act in accordance with it.”(Bread for the Journey, June 17)
However, for us to know personally that we are loved by God is not as easy as we think because for us to respond to God’s love is a great act of faith. Even monks have great difficulty to know for certain that God loves them. As Father Henri Nouwen said, “I suddenly saw much better than before that one of the greatest temptations of a monk is to doubt God’s love. Those who enter a contemplative monastery with the intention of staying for life must be very much aware of their own brokenness and need for redemption. If the monastic life should lead them to a morbid introspection of their own sinfulness, it would lead them away from God for whom they came to the monastery. Therefore, the growing realisation of one’s sins and weaknesses must open the contemplative to a growing awareness of God’s love and care.” (The Genesee Diary, Oct 27 1974)
Like the monks we find it hard to believe that God loves us when we are all so sinful. We feel that we have to earn the love God offered to us. But God wants to offer that love to us not because we have earned it, but because He has decided to love us independently of any effort on our part. God’s love for us is so total and unconditional that He simply welcomes us home, if we repent and return to Him. As Henri Nouwen said, “God does not require a pure heart before embracing us. Even if we return only because following our desires has failed to bring happiness, God will take us back. Even if we return because being a Christian brings us more peace than being a pagan, God will receive us. Even if we return because our sins did not offer as much satisfaction as we had hoped, God will take us back. Even if we return because we could not make it on our own, God will receive us. God’s love does not require any explanation about why we are returning. God is glad to see us home and wants to give us all we desire, just for being home.” (The Road to Daybreak, Nov 17 1985) “God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold on to the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God’s ever-present love.” (Bread for the Journey, Feb 6)
St Paul said, “God puts right everyone who believes in Jesus” (Romans 3:26) and Jesus came to help us to return to God without fear of God. As Henri Nouwen said, “Jesus came to us to help us overcome our fear of God. As long as we are afraid of God, we cannot love God. Love means intimacy, closeness, mutual vulnerability, and a deep sense of safety. But all of those are impossible as long as there is fear. Fear creates suspicion, distance, defensiveness and insecurity.
The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. Prayer, meditation, and education cannot come forth out of fear. God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, ‘Perfect love drives out fear.’(1 John 4:18) Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love and desires our love, free from all fear, in return.” (Bread for the Journey, Feb 29) And Mother Teresa said, “Jesus came into this world for one purpose. He came to give us the Good News that God loves us, that God is love, that He loves you, and He loves me. He wants us to love one another as He loves each one of us. Let us love Him. How did the Father love Him? He gave Him to us. How did Jesus love you and me?—–by giving His life. He gave all that He had—–His life—–for you and me. He died on the cross because He loved us, and He wants us to love one another as He loves each one of us. When we look at the cross, we know how He loved us. When we [at Christmas] look at the manger we know how He loves us now, you and me, your family, and everybody’s family with a tender love. And God loves us with a tender love. That is all that Jesus came to teach us, the tender love of God. ‘I have called you by your name, you are mine.’” (Jesus, The Word to be Spoken,Dec 26)
But, because after many promises we still sin again and again, the great temptation for us is to run away from God in despair instead of returning to Him in hope. As Henri Nouwen said, “During this week Judas and Peter present me with the choice between running away from Jesus in despair or returning to Him in hope. Judas betrayed Jesus and hanged himself. Peter denied Jesus and returned to Him in tears.
Sometimes despair seems an attractive choice, solving everything in the negative. The voice of despair says, ‘I sin over and over again. After endless promises to myself and others to do better next time, I find myself back again in the old dark places. Forget about trying to change. I have tried for years. It didn’t work and it will never work. It is better that I get out of people’s way, be forgotten, no longer around, dead.’
This strangely attractive voice takes all uncertainties away and puts an end to the struggle. It speaks unambiguously for the darkness and offers a clear-cut negative identity.
But Jesus came to open my ears to another voice that says, ‘I am your God, I have moulded you with My own hands, and I love what I have made. I love you with a love that has no limits, because I love you as I am loved. Do not run away from Me. Come back to Me—not once, not twice, but always again. You are My child. How can you ever doubt that I will embrace you again, hold you against My breast, kiss you and let My hands run through your hair? I am your God—the God of mercy and compassion, the God of pardon and love, the God of tenderness and care. Please do not say that I have given up on you, that I cannot stand you anymore, that there is no way back. It is not true. I so much want you to be with Me. I so much want you to be close to Me. I know all your thoughts. I hear all your words. I see all of your actions. And I love you because you are beautiful, made in My own image, an expression of My most intimate love. Do not judge yourself. Do not condemn yourself. Do not reject yourself. Let My love touch the deepest, most hidden corners of your heart and reveal to you your own beauty, a beauty that you have lost sight of, but which will become visible to you again in the light of My mercy. Come, come, let Me wipe your tears, and let My mouth come close to your ear and say to you, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’
This is the voice that Jesus wants us to hear. It is the voice that calls us always to return to the One who has created us in love and wants to re-create us in mercy. Peter heard that voice and trusted it. As he lets that voice touch his heart, tears came—tears of sorrow and tears of joy, tears of remorse and tears of peace, tears of repentance and tears of gratitude.
It is not easy to let the voice of God’s mercy speak to us because it is a voice asking for an always open relationship, one in which sins are acknowledged, forgiveness received, and love renewed. It does not offer us a solution, but a friendship. It does not take away our problems, but promises not to avoid them. It does not tell us where it all will end, but assures us that we will never be alone. A true relationship is hard work because loving is hard work, with many tears and many smiles. But it is God’s work and worth every part of it.
O Lord, my Lord, help me to listen to Your voice and choose Your mercy.” (The Road to Daybreak, March 26 1986)
So, how can we hear with our inner ears this voice that Peter heard? Before we can hear this inner voice that Peter heard, we have to start by believing in the Bible and that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 TEV) And that “Everything written in the Scriptures was written to teach us, in order that we might have hope through the patience and encouragement which the Scriptures give us.” (Romans 15:4 TEV) What this mean is that we must develop our faith in God.
And what is faith? St Paul says “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” (Hebrew 11:1 TEV) and without faith we cannot please God as, “No one can please God without faith, for whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists” (Hebrew 11:6 TEV). Faith is accepting Jesus at His word. When Jesus was asked, “’Where is your father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor my Father. If you knew Me, you would know my Father also.’”(John 8:19 TEV) and “The Father and I are one.”(John 10:30 TEV) “Whoever sees Me sees also Him who sent Me.”(John 12:45 TEV) St Paul says “Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God.”(Colossians 1:15 TEV) Jesus tells us that He loves us “I love you just as the Father loves Me”(John 15:9 TEV) and “I am the good Shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep” (John 10:11 TEV). Faith, then, is taking Jesus completely and absolutely at His word. Faith is complete trust that what Jesus said and taught about God is true.
Faith is complete confidence in Jesus’ love for us. As Mother Teresa asked, “Am I convinced of Christ’s love for me and mine for Him? This conviction is like a sunlight that makes the sap of life rise and the buds of sanctity bloom. This conviction is the rock on which sanctity is built. What must we do to get this conviction? We must know Jesus, love Jesus, serve Jesus. We know Him through prayers, meditations, and spiritual duties. We love Him through Holy Mass and the sacraments and through that intimate union of love. We must endeavor to live alone with Him in the sanctuary of our inmost heart.” (No Greater Love, Mother Teresa, 81)
We also know Jesus through studying the Bible and contemplating on Jesus’ love for us daily. Jesus loves us always, as He says; “I love you just as the Father loves Me.” (John 15:9 TEV) “And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20 NJB) “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.”(Hebrew 13:5 TEV) “I will never turn away anyone who comes to Me.”(John 6:37 TEV) Jesus assures us “…for the Father Himself loves you. He loves you because you love Me and have believed that I come from God.” (John 16:27 TEV) St John tells us “God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world, so that we might have life through Him”(1 John 4:9 TEV). This was clearly emphasized by Jesus, who said “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10 TEV) Jesus says “Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear My voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with Me.” (Revelation 3:20 TEV)
When Jesus comes into our hearts, we will be transformed to having a loving spirit. Then we will be able to bear everyday trials cheerfully and will be patient even under persistent irritation. We learn to return good for evil, meet the friction of everyday living with gentleness and sweetness and do not envy others. We learn to be humble and not boast about ourselves. We learn not to be easily provoked and we bear no malice. We learn not to fear as St Paul says “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”(2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV) We learn to be kind and compassionate, having a tender heart and not a stony heart “full of hypocrisy and sins.” (Matthew 23:28 TEV)
Therefore, for this miracle of transformation to come about so that our spirits become loving, we have to daily contemplate deeply on Jesus’ love and Words and obey His commandments. What are God’s commandments on love? Jesus tells us “The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’”(Mark 12:30-31 TEV). Again Jesus Christ says, “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you” (John 15:12 TEV). “If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are My disciples.”(John 13:35 TEV) We cannot love Jesus if we do not obey His commandments as Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will obey My commandments.”(John 14:15 TEV) and “If you obey My commands you will remain in My love.” (John 15:10 TEV) and “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you” (John 15:12 TEV). Again Jesus says “Whoever loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and My Father and I will come to him and live with him.”(John 14:23 TEV) We need always to remember that if we do not obey His teachings, we don’t love Him, as Jesus says, “He who does not love Me does not keep My Words.”(John 14:24 NKJV) St John reminded us that, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love”(1 John 4:8 TEV) and “if we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen.”(1 John 4:20 TEV) He emphasised that, “God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them”(1 John 4:16 TEV).
Mother Teresa summed it up by saying, “Jesus came into this world for one purpose. He came to give us the good news that God loves us, that God is love, that He loves you, and He loves me. How did Jesus love you and me? By giving His life.
God loves us with a tender love. That is all that Jesus came to teach us: the tender love of God. ‘I have called you by your name, you are mine’ (Isaiah 43:1 NAB).
The whole gospel is very, very simple. Do you love me? Obey my commandments. He’s turning and twisting just to get around to one thing: love one another.
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, and with all thy mind’ (Deuteronomy 6:5 KJV). This is the command of our great God, and He cannot command the impossible. Love is a fruit, in season at all times and within the reach of every hand. Anyone may gather it and no limit is set.
Everyone can reach this love through meditation, the spirit of prayer, and sacrifice, by an intense interior life. Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary.” (No Greater Love,21)
Therefore, “we love because God first loved us” as this is a cause and effect phenomenon. The cause is “because God first loved us” and when we are able to fervently believe this; the effect on us is that we love. Since love begets love, we begin to love Jesus and others by a process of induction, like a magnet. Do we have faith in Jesus that this will come about? If we do have faith, then our chances of being transformed from having a loveless spirit into a loving spirit are that much better because the fruit of faith is love. Faith or trust is the direct route to love and we have to trust that only through being loved are we capable of love. And for the miracle of having that loving spirit starts with me, I must truly believe that God first loves me.