“God is love.” 1 John 4:16
On my desk is a tuning fork I’ve had for 25 years or so. This particular tuning fork gives me the note A. It doesn’t matter how often I strike it, it will always give me the note A. You can’t hear it from a distance. You have to be close. You must listen carefully. I could pack it carefully away and open it up in 20 or 30 years, strike it and it would give me the note A. Over and over. Always and forever. This tuning fork gives me the note A.
I have it because of a story I read many years ago. Lloyd Douglas tells about an old man he would occasionally visit who gave violin lessons. One day Douglas dropped by the old man’s studio and as a greeting asked, “well, what’s the good news today?” Putting down his violin the man stepped over to a tuning fork suspended from a silver cord and with a padded mallet struck it a sharp blow and then said, “there’s the good news for me today, that my friend here is C. It was C all day yesterday, it will be C all day tomorrow, next week and for a thousand years. The soprano next door warbles off key, the tenor upstairs flats his high notes, and the piano across the hall is out of tune. Noise all around me, noise, but my friend is C.”
In his first letter, John wrote very simply that God is love. He didn’t write, “God is anger” or God is wrath” or “God is disgusted” or “God is uninterested.” He wrote God is love. Four words in Greek, three in English that summarize the fundamental and unchangeable nature of God. Everything God does emanates from love. Everything I know about God must start with love. Love is God’s one note.
That’s so important to remember because we live in a noisy world. We live in a world of anger, wrath, disgust, and apathy. The noise comes from the outside, and too often it comes from a critical voice inside. I know both sources. I also know that when the noise is too loud and too constant I need to pull away to a quiet place, and listen for the one note. It’s always there, if I’m still enough to hear it. God is love.
John did not always have this idea about God. We have enough information about John to piece together his pilgrimage. We know that Jesus nicknamed him and his brother James Boanerges, a word that means thunder. Sons of thunder. Or as some translators put it sons of commotion or agitation. It was a good nickname, for John, as a young man, was noisy.
Consider: soon after Jesus first predicted His death, John and James asked Jesus if they could have the places of honor when Jesus fully established His kingdom. They were self-seekers. They had not clearly heard the one note.
Consider: soon after that they came to a Samaritan village, but the people there didn’t want anything to do with Jesus. They refused to let Jesus enter. Two disciples came to him and said, “Lord do you want us to bid fire to come down out of heaven and consume them?” Guess who it was. Two noisy brothers. You can almost hear the excitement in their voices. Their hatred drove their desire to punish and kill. John had not heard the one note.
At some point, however, perhaps at the cross, he began to hear that note. He came to realize that God was not a God of vengeance and power displays. He had come to die for us because of his great love for us. John heard the one note, and realized some things needed to die in him. He got rid of all the noise in the succeeding years and later would write, “God is love.” John was transformed by love.
That is the first great truth about God’s love that you need to commit to memory. God’s love transforms. It powerfully transforms the life of anyone who accepts as reality and lives accordingly. It will flow into any open heart and change you from the inside out. God’s love transforms.
We never argue anyone into the kingdom. Or berate them into belief. I do best by simply telling the story of how God’s love has changed me. That keeps me from telling other people how they must write their story. I believe that by telling mine, people are more likely to turn to God in a quiet moment and hear the one note.
The candle on the Advent wreath for this week is the candle of love. If you’re like me you need a silent night in the midst of this noisy week. Though you may not have an Advent wreath in your home, you can light a candle, be still, open your heart and mind, and listen for the one note. Do you hear it? It’s always there. God really does love you.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 20, 2015