When people say they wonder about things, they usually mean they are puzzling over something. And puzzling can be a form of wonder, I suppose. But in this case, I am standing in awe of something. I wonder at it, I adore it, it terrifies me yet it saves me.
This thing that seems so contradictory in and of itself is love. I’m not going to try to explain it, because I have finally accepted the fact that it is unexplainable. I did not used to think it was so; a few months ago I thought I would go crazy trying to figure it out. I paid close attention to newly married Christian couples. I knew that their love for each other mirrored Christ’s love for us. It seemed like they held a deep mystery. As soon as they were married, there was something new about them; something that could not be explained. I looked and saw it in my parents. I saw it in every married person around me, and I couldn’t place my finger on it.
Awhile ago I had a revelation. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that “love keeps no record of wrong.” This bit puzzled me, but it gave me a realization about love. You cannot blame a brother for something he has done in the past, you cannot hold it against him. Love blots out that wrong, it forgives. My love for my brother or sister must not hold blame, because I must see that I am a sinner myself. Yet, at the same time, such a person may have changed for the better. The Holy Spirit is constantly molding and changing and honing the hearts of men: how can we say that a man is what he was years ago, based on something he had done? A man is not what he was, and will not be what he is. The principle allows one to love freely, but not blindly.
But there is another paradox, and one of Shakespeare’s sonnets solved it for me. The puzzle that was even if love kept no record of wrong, the thing that it loved at first changes in character. A woman might love a man for his strength, or a man might love a woman for her beauty. They each might love little quirks or characteristics in the other. They might find they cannot live without each other, and they might marry. Yet in 40 years, I can almost guarantee that those things that formed the basis for their love are gone. Do we expect to see an absence of love here? No! If anything they are more firmly attached to each other than before. They may not love with the same passion as when they were young, but they are something else… they have mellowed out together. Their love has not died, but it has deepened. They have grown to respect each other. The only explanation I could find was this. Though the beauty may have faded and the quirks were replaced with other characteristics, their mutual affection and respect was deepened because of the union of their souls. And it is in that union, it is in that mystery of the soul that I lose the explanation of love: it is there that it cannot be explained.
It is here that Chesterton comes into play. Optimism and Pessimism can be found in marriage. Say that two young persons got married. Say that the husband was so optimistic about his wife: he loved her so much that he did not want her to change in any way. Say the wife was so pessimistic about her husband: she hated him to such a degree because of all his faults, and felt that the extent of them was so hopeless, that she did not attempt to help him change. Each one of them are wrong: they are both sinners in a fallen world. The husband must love his wife, yet he must be enough of a pessimist to realize her faults and enough of an optimist to want to change them. There must be a perfect balance.
So Chesterton states it thus:
“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing ? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.”
I’m not saying that husbands and wives should go about smashing each other for their own good. But there is something about them… they love each other for who they are, yet they help each other change.
Like I said, Shakespeare explained it to me in a sonnet:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown although his highth be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out, even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
Then I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove. This statement would be a contradiction in and of itself. Love does not change when its object is altered in some way, yet neither does it seek to remove its object. It remains fixed in its purpose, change what may.
I am enthusiastic about this love, yet I am terrified of it. God’s love must be terrible. I read once that His love has the strength of man, and yet the tenderness of a woman. It is not wimpish, yet it is not unfeeling. He loves me in spite of my faults, and it is he who is constantly molding me and making me. Why am I afraid of this love? There is a line in a Mumford and Sons song that says:
“Can you kneel before the King
And say I’m clean, I’m clean?”
And if that King loves me so deeply, so steadfastly, can I kneel before him, can I look him in the eye, can I pretend to be worthy of his love? No, I can’t. He is the epitome of holiness, and who am I? I am the dirt and scum of the earth. Even in spite of his love, I see his justice; I see that I have offended his holiness, that divine justice must be satisfied in some way.
Yet he loves me.
“…sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy, but real love has always ended in bloodshed.”
And that’s exactly what has been done for me. There is a beauty in Christ’s blood, and I am drenched in it. He loved me, he gave himself up for me. His sacrifice satisfied divine justice for me. This love is terrifying because of what it will do. If I sin against my heavenly Father, I am terrified to face him. Yet in love he will discipline me, and with true repentance will come his mercy to me.
Even when I think that I can understand the love between a man and a woman, my entire theory is bashed to pieces when I think of what that love mirrors. The love that is exchanged on this earth is not as perfect as Christ’s, but it aims to be that way. It climbs higher and higher, and it is sanctified. One day we will be able to love fully, even has we have been fully loved.
Do not think that love is a fraud, that it will betray you. If it does, it is not real love. Pursue holy love, covenant love, real love. If you think love does not hurt—well it does. Until we are able to love perfectly. But while we are still sinful, we need discipline, and quite often that discipline or correction will come from someone who loves us, or whom we love.
So I’ll end with a line from another Mumford and Sons song:
“Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be.
There is a design,
An alignment to cry,
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be.”
Look higher than the precepts of the world. Search further into your soul. In the dead of night, or the quiet of morning, seek the Lord: you will find love. In a torrent of pain and feeling you will find a completion to your soul. The yearning that you have that nothing ever satisfies will be given. You will feel Him say: “I am.” And the moment of revelation will come: He is everything, and he can give everything. And a peace will envelope you. You will lie on your face, and you will not even want to get up. You will want to stay and feel his love surround you. You will feel the grace, the mercy, and you will know that this love is deeper than any you have received or given. You will lay there in awe and shame, but he will “raise you up and set you in His presence” (Psalm 41.) This is not a one-time experience. There are times when we must be constantly reminded of Christ’s everlasting and unfathomable love. Let us stand in wonder of it, and let us seek to display this Christ-like love towards our brothers and sisters.