“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)
Ever since digging into the connection between love and discipline, God’s love has been a common theme in my spiritual studies and ponderings. Mostly how deep and beyond our current understanding it is. We have this idea of love that is so limited and even wrong in some ways. I mean, God is love. We certainly don’t understand all of who God is, so we have to expect that our insight on love is also incomplete.
In Song of Solomon 8:6, it says “for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.” (ESV). I think we usually romanticize this and simply relate these descriptions of love: “strong”, “fierce”, a “flame”, to the intense passion with which one can love another and God loves us. While this is fine, and even true, I again have to think it’s too limited. We tend to box love into something that gives warm feelings and builds us up. When someone says, “I love you” we expect that to come with a smile, a hug or kiss, a kind gesture, and a happy feeling. But going back to the fact that “God is love”, we really need to look beyond our feelings and search the Scriptures to get a more whole picture. These strong words and images of love in Song of Solomon, (“Its flashes are flashes of fire”!?) probably have more depth than we first give them credit for.
When we read that God’s love is a flame it sounds awesome and powerful, but forget that fire can also burn! God’s love can be painful. I don’t even like writing those words. It just seems wrong. But the more I am in the Word and studying God’s love the more I can’t deny that it’s true. God’s purpose for us, his creation, his children, is to glorify him and be with him forever (I Thessalonians 5:9-10, I Corinthians 10:31) and all he does for us is to that end, including how he loves us.
“Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. …at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.” – Psalm 18:8, 13, 15b
“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” – Micah 3:2
God, who cannot act outside of his love, is a refining fire as demonstrated in the above verses. We have a lot of impurity within us that distances us from God. He wants to dwell within us, and so has to cleanse us, or in other words, discipline us. It’s all for our good, out of his love for us and desire to be near us. And this is only one facet of the many that God’s love contains! Simply read I Corinthians 13 and be consumed by the beautiful complexities of love. Oh, how we need the knowledge, discernment, and surrender to let God’s love sink deeper into our souls, purify us, and transform us into his image. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish saint said it well, “If you will seek Him in your spirit, I know that you will begin to see the pains and oppositions of life in this new way: they are the most tender and delicate touches of God’s desire for us, by which He works the arts and wiles of love upon our soul.” (34).
John of the Cross. You Set My Spirit Free : A 40-Day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross : Devotional Readings. Paraphrased by David Hazard, Bethany House, 1994.