In the 1960s, cartoonist Kim Casali began a comic strip called "Love is …" and by the mid-1970s was earning over $6 million a year in royalties.
Through cartoons that appeared in newspapers, on fridge magnets, in greetings cards and souvenirs, she told the world about love. Her most famous cartoon read, "Love is … being able to say you’re sorry."
Today Instagram accounts such as The Secure Relationship, run by psychotherapist Julie Menanno, attract hundreds of thousands of followers, all eager to read her infographics to help them better understand love. In a post this week she describes love as validation, empathy, comfort, reflection, listening, presence, vulnerability, touch and support.
Yet the most popular Bible reading at weddings is still Paul's letter to the church in Corinth, written two thousand years ago, where he describes love:
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."
And who said the Bible was irrelevant?
The eternal truth of love echoes down the millennia, through writing, art, music, and culture, because it is fundamental to our existence. It resonates with who we are to the very core of our being. Did you notice that each and every description about love – whether by the cartoonist Kim, the psychotherapist Julie, or the apostle Paul – is relational? You see, love cannot exist in isolation. It cannot exist on its own. Love can only exist in a relationship.
Have you ever wondered why the god of the Christians is described as being both three and one – one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It is a confusing paradox. How can something be both three and one at the same time? Yet, it makes perfect sense when you understand that God is love, for a God that was one – and only one – could not express love, because love needs to be shared and expressed in a relationship.
Christians assert that God is because God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all express perfect love in and through and to each other. The Christian god is a god of dynamic, expressive love. And the best news of all is that God invites us into her circle of love; God extends her relational love to us.
Before I continue, it is worth pointing out that the Christian god is very different to the gods of some other religions; not in a self-righteous or judgemental, "we are right and you are wrong" kind of way.
You see, the idea of God being love is an anathema, or impossible in some religions. For as we know, if we love someone we run the risk of that love being rejected and when that love is rejected we suffer. Therefore, God cannot love because God would run the risk of that love being rejected and would suffer. And God, being God, must be above all pain and suffering, right? A god that suffers must be weak, not invincible, and therefore unacceptable, right? Well … that is what sets the god of the Christians apart, for their god is a suffering god. Their god is a god who not only loves, but is love itself.
As human beings we strive for perfect love – it is that for which our soul longs. As Nat King Cole sang, "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." But, for all the wonders of our modern civilisation, our advances in science and knowledge, and thousands of years of expression through art, poetry, sculpture and song, we acknowledge that we are still unable to love perfectly and that perfect love seems just out of our reach. We are not 100 per cent accepting, forgiving, patient, kind, validating, empathetic, comforting, supportive, enduring or hopeful. Our love is not perfect because we are not perfect.
But … where our love fails, God's love never fails. It is perfect and, because of this, the Christian message is that God's love is able to reach into our brokenness and imperfection. God's love is without limit; no matter who we are and what we have done, we can be totally and completely forgiven, accepted, validated, comforted and supported. And this is why some of us gather, usually on a Sunday, to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving for the ultimate expression of that love that is found in Jesus. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will never die but have life in all its fullness – now and forever."
At St Mark's, last Sunday, we sang this wonderful hymn with words penned by the Welsh poet and author William Rees; a hymn that never fails to touch my heart:
Here is love vast as the ocean
Loving kindness as the flood
When the Prince of Life our ransom
Shed for us His precious blood
Who His love will not remember
Who can cease to sing His praise
He can never be forgotten
Throughout heaven's eternal days
On the mount of crucifixion
Fountains opened deep and wide
Through the floodgates of God's mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide
Grace and love like mighty rivers
Poured incessant from above
And Heaven's peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love
Rev Gav is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm