“We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
A few weeks ago, I was enjoying playing with my nearly four-year-old grandson, Beckett. He was on the tree swing, and I was pushing. It was one of those glorious, beautiful, perfect weather granddaddy days. It’s etched in my memory.
One mental frame I’ll treasure forever is when Beckett was swinging toward me, smiling, with blond hair blown back by the warm breeze, enjoying his Gandy as much as his Gandy was enjoying him. He’s a talker, and we had covered a number of topics, none particularly memorable until he did his Beckett-thing of going surprisingly deep. Out of some little fertile area in his brain where he’s been forming his little boy theology, he asked “Gandy, why do you love me so?”
Kids will do this occasionally. Usually it’s a ploy to delay bedtime. “Where did God come from?” “What do we look like in heaven?” “Is my dog there?” “Can you explain fractal geometry?” My daughter has long taken the cowards-way out on these kinds of things, “Ask your Gandy. He has a doctorate in theology.” Come to think of it, her mother did a lot of the same thing.
“Why do you love me so?” He knows that his Gandy loves him. He knows that his Gandy loves him a lot. I suppose he takes a lot of four-year-old comfort in that. But why do I love him?
I don’t recall my spur of the moment response. It was something along the lines of “Well, you’re mine. I’m your Gandy. I’m supposed to love you and I do.” I’m sure that satisfied him. He was just thrilled to have a turn on the swing and some personal time with his grandfather. He is mine, and I am his. That’s probably about all he needed and could handle.
But to reduce love simply to ownership seems a bit contractual. Why do I love you? Well, I’m supposed to. I’ve got to do better than that.
I’ve had more than one young mother come to me over the years and ask how she can possibly love a second child. They fear that they simply won’t be able to manufacture a duplication of the wondrous love they feel for their first one. Where will this new love come from? We talk about how love is not a quantity. We talk about how we don’t really understand where all that love for the first one came from. It will be there, I tell them. Don’t worry.
Beckett is my second grandchild, the fourth human being of my biological line, so to speak. I have a third grandchild now, Abbott. I don’t have any sense whatsoever that the “love tank” is getting close to empty. The love is just there.
But why do I love you so? I’ve got an answer that won’t help a four-year-old who pretty much defines love as Gandy pushing him on the tree swing, but I think it will help him on down the road and perhaps help you today. Here it is: I love because God first loved me.
In this same section John wrote twice that God is love. That’s a truly remarkable statement. John wrote more about love than any of the other Gospel writers. Most people don’t realize that John 3:16 is most likely not something Jesus said, but something John wrote as he thought about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. God so loved. I might ask of God the same question Beckett asked of me, “God, why do you love me so?” His answer would be what John wrote in his first letter. “I am love. It is My nature.”
If I am so loved by God (whose very essence is love), and if I bear God’s image (which we all do), and if I am transformed by Christ, then it makes sense that, in a very real way, I too am love. That must be why I didn’t love Gregory less than Lauren, or why I can love Abbott just as much as I love Emily Grace (grand #1), and why I’ll love grand #4 as much as I love the others.
Love is not a quantity. It’s not something I have to do. It’s first something I become. Being always precedes doing in authentic Christian spirituality. Otherwise, our actions become contractual and calculated.
I love you Beckett because God loves me and has changed me to become more and more like Him. And I hope that one day as your keen little mind keeps turning over and over these fascinating ideas that you’ll be able to trace the lineage of love from your Gandy back to the God who is the source. He loves you so too.
Dr. Terry Ellis
June 21, 2020