The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. (Jeremiah 31:3)
Every human being is born with an innate, fundamental need to love and be loved. It is one of the most basic and most powerful of human emotions and, during the course of our lives, will bring us both the most incredible joy and the most agonising sorrow. It is the only emotion that is able to encapsulate two entirely opposite extremes of human experience, often at the same time. It’s little wonder, then, that Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God totally and completely, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It is this absolute involvement in loving entirely and without reservation that God Himself manifested in the birth and death of Christ.
The everlasting love of God encompasses two extremes.
A lot is taught about the love of God, and rightly so. But, too often, it is portrayed as a single-sided love, the kind that overlooks and forgives and excuses and wears only the face of joy. This perception leaves out the side of hurt, of pain, of suffering, and of accountability. All of these ‘negatives’ are as much a part of love as the joy, the fulfillment, the satisfaction, and the wonder. The two extremes are intertwined and cannot be separated.
God’s love for us is not ‘blind.’ He does not simply ignore our sins, our faults, and our weaknesses. It’s important that we understand this. If His love made Him ‘look past all that,’ there would have been absolutely no reason for Christ to be born, to live as man, and to die. Our real identity as those dead in sin would have been made irrelevant because God chose to ignore it, to love us ‘just the way we are.’ The real truth is that God loves us despite the way we are, and that is why Christ was born and lived among us with the sole purpose of dying for us – that we might be saved and changed.
It is quite correct to say that the everlasting love of God is an absolute truth. The Bible tells us that, and this implies absolute faithfulness. His love for us began at the beginning of the world and will remain even through eternity, and it operates despite our faithlessness and disobedience. This is true, and it’s important – God’s love for us has never and will never be affected by whether or not we love Him in return or whether we remain faithful in that love. God’s love simply is, despite who and what we are.
Let’s take this one step further. Because He loves us with an everlasting love, He draws us with lovingkindness. He doesn’t draw us because we deserve it or even because we need it. He draws us because He loves us. End of story. Whether or not we choose to accept that love is irrelevant. The only relevant truth is that God loves us, and that He draws us with lovingkindness as a result. Our response will never alter the everlasting love of God or the fact that He draws us with lovingkindness.
But, while the nature and power of God’s love never changes, this does not automatically mean that we enjoy that love. The Bible is very clear on this point. John 3:16 says this: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. This verse, so often quoted to validate the concept of God’s ‘unconditional love,’ makes it very clear that receiving and enjoying this everlasting love is, in fact, conditional. Unless we ‘believe in Him,’ we have not access to God’s love, which ultimately manifests as everlasting life.
It is this condition of believing in Christ that trips up the unconditional love argument. To believe in Christ means for more than simply believing that God loves us so much that He’s willing to do anything to have us love Him, even to the point of whitewashing or overlooking things that are entirely contrary to His nature. Believing in Christ means, quite literally, identifying completely and utterly with Him in order to receive and enjoy the same everlasting love and everlasting life that He did. It means being willing to be changed, and it means being willing to die.
Jesus was, first and foremost, changed because of the love of God. He set aside His rightlful glory as the Son of God and part of the trinity and allowed Himself to be changed into the Son of Man. In the same way, if we desire to live in the love of God, we need to be willing to be changed from the sons of men into the image of the Son of God. The previous identity needs to be completely set aside. We need to identify so completely with Christ that the self we were ceases to exist. This is what it means to believe in Him, and God’s love – while it exists, is real, and and is everlasting – is unavailable if we do not fulfill this first part of the condition.
The second part of the condition, the believing in Christ, is the acceptance that the love of God can only be accessed through death. Yes, this is extreme, but the things of God are just that. Extreme. Exceedingly, abundantly, far more than we could ever ask or imagine. The same vastness of the eternal I AM is relevant in every aspect of God’s nature. If ‘God is love’ then the everlasting love of God is also extreme, so extreme that He embraced the agony of the cross and death in order that His everlasting love could manifest in everlasting life. That’s the ultimate extreme.
Believing in Jesus, as we’ve discussed, is more than just agreement with who He is and what He did. It means total identification with Him. This is what Jesus meant when He talked of loving our neighbour as ourselves – it means identifying with them so completely that they become as important to us as self. It means there is no distinction between us. Their needs become our needs. Their pains our pains, their joys our joys. Jesus died literally and spiritually, and unless we identify completely with Him in His death – to gain our lives we must first lose them – we cannot receive the love of God.
Unless we are willing to embrace the two extremes of the everlasting love of God, we will continue to live in only a portion of what is available. The measure we give determines the measure we receive. For the everlasting love of God to be a full and complete reality, we need to surrender to both the extreme of unutterable joy and the extreme of unutterable agony. We need to be willing to open ourselves to live the love of God fully, to feel His sadness, His hurt, His suffering, and His grieving for mankind. There is a saying that real joy can only be understood if there is the opposite condition against which to measure it. While this seems trite, it actually contains the vital truth that love encompasses the full range of human emotion. If we want real love, we cannot escape this truth.
The everlasting love of God draws us with lovingkindness. That is unassailable truth. The question, however, is how do we respond? It’s a universal truth that loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean they love us in return. Are we willing to love God with the same extremes as He loves us? Are we willing, like Jesus, to ‘pay the price?’ While God’s love is manifest in His grace towards us, freely given, it doesn’t alter the fact that, as Jesus commanded, we must be willing to count the cost.
How great is Your love, Lord, faithful and everlasting. We cannot begin to comprehend it’s full measure, or the terrible price You paid to make it available to us. Forgive us for the times where we may have taken it for granted. Draw us with Your lovingkindess to the place of surrender, of full identification with Jesus, so that we may receive Your love and Your life and, like Jesus, be willing to lay down all so that others may receive it too.