Sunday, May 11, 2008

How To Love God

A comment on my last post asked me to address how to love God. My first question was, what love language are you speaking? Are you asking, how do we show our love for God? In which case, helLO, keep His commandments, but, after speaking with my dear sister, the question was meant in a little more of an abstract way, as I was afraid of.

How do we feel love for God?

How do we experience intimacy?

I'll confess something. It is a subject that has made me slightly uncomfortable at times. I remember as a teenage boy being ill-at-ease particularly with the story of the fallen woman who washed the feet of Jesus with ointment and tears and dried them with her hair. Seemed a little too demonstrative, and little too earthy. Touching God's feet with your hair?

And emotional public displays of affection for God can still rattle me. I don't want to get into the debate over differing methods of expression and the "in the Spirit" or "in the human" discussion, but even what could very well be genuine demonstrations of love for God can cause me to fidget or close up. Emotion of that sort is an extremely private thing for me, and it repulses me to see it displayed publicly. It is no doubt partially a masculine hang-up and partially reactionary and also partially legitimate.

There is a school of thought that views the Song of Solomon as an allegorical expression of Christ's love for the Christian and vice versa. And, though I experience no awkwardness reading the Song as an ode to eros, I clinch up a bit reading it as a love poem from God.

St. John of the Cross, the man who gave us the phrase, "the long, dark night of the soul" used some very provocative language in his reflections.

"O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center! Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate! if it be your will: tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!"

If somebody came up with that in church, I'd have to run to the restroom.

But viewed allegorically, it is entirely appropriate and even a needful and sometimes lacking attitude in our view of God.

I am not suggesting that we can, or are supposed to, feel love for God. You are to show your love for Him by obedience in everything, but we are not commanded to manufacture emotion, if anything, we are not to manufacture emotion. But I empathize with the question, since it seems as if it should be such an integral part of our relationship with God.

We cannot see God, cannot touch Him, cannot even count on His felt presence, so how are we to love Him, in the sense we are using? ( Well, Jennifer, you might've asked someone else the question, given my relationship with emotion. I don't have much use for it, or it doesn't have much use for me.)

Obviously, the flavor of our relationship with God, the feeling it provokes is going to vary with personality. My grandparents serve as an example. On my mother's side, Grandpa comes across to me as more reserved publicly than Grandma. On my dad's side, there was a unique role reversal. Grandpa was always more emotional in his testimonies and conversation than Grandma was. There are no levels to this. And we were each created with personality differentials, so there is no right/wrong.

There is a long-lasting movement in the contemporary music scene called worship music. It generates a lot of mush, a lot of jokes, and a lot of satire. (read Frank Peretti's Visitation)

I've listened to some of it. Don't care for most of it, tolerate some of it, and actually like precious little of it, mostly because I don't care for the repetition. It makes me suspicious of two things; the writer's creativity and the entrancing aspect of repeating the same thing over and over again. Though, to be sure, my personal taste is not always the same thing as sound judgement. I remember being disgusted with the lack of depth and theology of a chorus in our chorus book. "What is this, 'the trees of the field will clap their hands', I mean, who writes this stuff?!"

Isaiah, it turns out, was the culprit.

But the attitude of much worship music, to be fair, is prayerful and seemingly genuine; an expression of love for God. Here again, this actually proves nothing. I remain quite convinced that the same person who could conceive, write and sing "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," or even, "My Jesus, I Love Thee" could be, in practice, an outstanding hypocrite.

Can you cultivate love for God?

I think so. And this we are in fact commanded to do, by prayer, Bible reading, prayerful meditation and holy living. But the thermostat doesn't control weather outside. God may wish you to feel love as an emotion or, He may wish you not to. I mentioned the long, dark night of the soul, and I've written about Mother Theresa's crisis of emotionless service. I think part of the problem is conventional wisdom. The ability to feel love for God is viewed as the norm and even proof of your relationship. I'm to the point where I'll scream if I hear one more preacher say, "When is the last time you really broke through to Heaven?" as questioning the health of your Christianity. It is a shallow, emotions driven view of spirituality, but it pervades our thinking in other, more subtle ways. We are programmed to expect emotional victories to spiritual battles, bright rays of God's favor after spiritual storms, and mountains after valleys. Sometimes, however, we fight Vietnams, live in Seattle, or walk in Kansas.

The feeling of love, the genuine feeling, not the schmaltz, not the mind-numbed vain repetition, not the syrup, but the genuine freedom, the soaring flight, that feeling, is something that God may choose to allow us to feel, as a gift to us. The feeling of love is not a gift from us to God. Our obedience, our attentiveness, our willingness, our brokenness is our gift. The feeling is sometimes His reciprocation, but when it doesn't come, remember that this means that He trusts you enough to serve Him without the blessing.

Hope that helps.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts. They definitely help. You mentioned your blog about Mother Theresa. I am thankful that I often feel God's blessing/love...I just hope that I return the favor. Especially since the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God...