Years ago I was asked to officiate at a wedding, where, when I asked about some focus for the meditation, I was told, “Do something spiritual, instead of a religious sermon.”
It was somewhat amusing to me that this bride would draw such a firm distinction between spirituality and religion, but, knowing a little about her passions and her experiences, I understood something of what she meant. And so the scripture passages chosen were some very intimate and blush worthy words from the Song of Songs, and these from 1 John. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
I don’t know if these are particularly religious words. But they are very spiritual. They are very radical.
From my very beginnings of hearing about God, I was taught, and I sang, that God is love. But no one taught me that love is interchangeable with God, and that these verses say that experiencing love is experiencing God. If you have known love, you have known God.
Who does that exclude? Who has not known love? Perhaps you can make sad cases, tell me stories of lives lived in the total absence of love, but my point remains. Wherever you have experienced love, you have experienced God. Whoever has known love, felt love, has known God. Whether the language of God was there, whether an awareness of God was there, “whoever lives in love lives in God.”
The Christian church might suggest something different here. The Christian church might suggest that the only kind of love that really counts is the love offered by Christians to those around them. That is in direct contrast to the words in 1 John. “Everyone who loves has been born of God.” In our desire to be different, to stand apart from the world, we have assumed that Godly love can only be given by us to “them.” I read here that, wherever it comes from, however it is expressed, whoever expresses it, love is an announcement of the presence of God.
That might be a struggle, you might want to protest, “but every parent in every religion, every culture, every corner of the globe, every parent loves their children. And they’re not Christian. How can that be about God?”
I can only point at 1 John, and wonder along with you, “yes, how can that be? And isn’t that an amazing story about God?”
Further into1 John, the language is still strong. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.”
How often are we liars? How often do we live aggression, either singly, communally, nationally, globally? How often do decisions that represent our will serve to disenfranchise others?
A cousin, working with troubled youth on the streets of Regina, tells of driving a vanload of his charges to the group home one night, when they spotted a person lying in the street. Dave was busy dodging, braking, wondering what he should do, was it just another drunk, when a boy in the seat beside him shouted out, “You gotta stop, man. Like, he could be hurt or dying or something! He needs help! You gotta stop, man!”
They did stop, and went back to offer what help they could.
The troubled boy who had challenged him to stop, the young modern day good Samaritan, ran away a week later, returning to his life of prostitution on the streets. A few days after that, he too was lying in the streets, murdered.
In the startling experience of that boy, Dave experienced the love of God, the presence of God.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God. I have no doubt that the spirit of that boy, who, as far as I know never spoke a religious word, had probably never been given any understanding of faith, but that the spirit of that young boy resides with a God of love.
Our God is that radical.
Ed Olfert is a Prince Albert freelance writer.