I have a passion for men live in the spiritual freedom of “receiving the love of God.” It is similar to being held in our heavenly Father’s loving arms. I identify with the Palmist, when he declares, “We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation.” Recently I have been reading a book by James K. A. Smith, which explores persons as lovers of God. He makes reference to I John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” “Even our disordered loves,” states Smith, “bear a backhanded witness to the fact that we are made in God’s image.”
He quotes Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, “After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge…..the seeds of love lies dormant within us as the image of God. But just as no child can be awakened to love without being loved, so too no human heart can come to an understanding of God without the free gift of his grace – in the image of his Son.” The mother evoking a child’s smile models God’s initiative in the incarnation, smiling on us in love, allowing us to love him in return.
Our part is to move out of ourselves and look into the face of Jesus. We prayer with the Palmist, “My heart says of you, “Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Ps 27:8). “Jesus is the smile of God.” (Smith) With Paul we can say, “All of us, without any veil on our faces, gaze at the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, and so are being changed into the same image, from glory to glory, just as you’d except from the Lord, the spirit.” (II Cor. 3:18). We come to know that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5: 8). Gazing upon Jesus, we become aware of his presence within our hearts.
As a result, God’s spirit awakens love in our hearts. As a mother radiates love to the child, so God radiates love to us allowing us to respond to his love. It is not the result of our effort or worthiness. Rather it is God’s loving kindness. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (I Cor. 4:6).
Secondly, we gain knowledge of the love of God. In coming to experience the love of God, we come to the knowledge of God’s love for us. But first we must receive this love, just as a child learns to respond to the loving gaze of the mother. It is the gaze that bring the awareness of love, not our understanding or effort in being presentable. What relief to know that God loves us in our guilt and shame.
Thirdly, God meets us in our incapacity, giving us the capacity to love. In God first loving us, we see the gracious initiative of God granting the grace that allows us to love him in return.
Fourthly, our journey in Christ becomes one of surrender to the love rather than the dutiful obligation. Out heavenly Father desires that our intentions to serve him come from willing, joyful hearts. Duty can be short lived, while willingness can endure because of the awareness of God’s favor.