Loved.

Day Two

Loved.

‘We love because he first loved us’ 

1 John 4:19

Found in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-24

Some illness is easy to diagnose, like blotches on skin or a fevered brow.  Other sickness is more difficult to detect. Silent. Invisible. Like tears shed in the night. 

Because a beating heart is not always a thriving heart. A brave smile is not always a happy one. A rise and fall of lungs is not always a breath of fresh air enlivening a soul. A quiet inhale can be a lonely sigh that gnaws in the silence of an empty room and an empty heart. 

All our technological advance cannot replace our need for human touch, human connection, human laughter, human love. Because we’re human. Human. Though the systems we create often treat us as machines, we’ve never been very good at becoming them. The ‘tweets’, the ‘likes’ on tinselled screens, the fads we follow, the consumer goods that consume us, all this stuff we stuff into the holes in our souls can’t satiate our need for real connection. It all leaves us gnawingly empty. Eventually. 

YHWH Jesus God

This emptiness. This loneliness. This silent rising grief we experience in our increasing isolation- its not something that’s wrong with us. If we feel empty, it means we’ve known somehow, sometime, what it’s like to feel full. If there is an absence, it means once there was a presence. Long ago. We know we’re made for connection, for community, for love. Because we were.

Our story, the human story, has always been a love story. The story we were created for and formed to live within, was always a story beginning with love and connection.

Our story with Him.

Our story that began before our breath. 

In the very beginning.

Spoken words created everything in all of creation; “Let there be- and it was so”,“Let there be- and it was so”, “Let there be- and it was so”, “according to their kinds”, ‘‘according to their kinds”, ‘‘according to their kinds”.¹ Everything but us. The author of Genesis uses the phrase ‘according to their kinds’ ten times preceding the creation of all living organisms. Except for human beings. These repeated refrains didn’t repeat for us.

We were not created ‘according to our kind’. The author of Genesis seemed intent on making this clear. We were created differently. 

To be different. 

Like Him. 

‘Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness..’’ Genesis 1:26

YHWH God Jesus

There was a silence when we began. The quiet rise and fall of lungs filling with air, the whispered hush of a breath drawn in and a breath exhaled.

But before this silence, there was something else.  Before the silence in the creation of us, there was poetry and song in the pondering of us. 

We didn’t begin with a loud bang. We didn’t begin with a “Let there be- and it was so”. We didn’t begin with words at all. 

We began with mud. And breath.

And a song, deep in the heart of God.

‘So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.’
Genesis 1:27

Jesus God YHWH

When God created human beings a lyrical lilt enters the text and the lines become a poem, a song, a melody woven in light. Here in Genesis 1:27, at the genesis of us we have the first example of poetry in the Bible known as ‘poetic parallelism’ woven with heightened speech and poetic diction². Against the canvas of all the patterned repetition of the creation of everything else, this poetry speaks. 

We were created differently. 

To be different. 

Like Him. 

God found no words to describe us into being. It was the song in His heart that became the reality of us, the melody that guided His hands as He worked, the music within Him that spilled over into the mud. Into us. 

It was personal. To Him. He was close.

As close as He intended to stay. With us. Always. 

As close as He intended us to be. With Him. Always.

There was an intimacy in the beginning of us. A calling to closeness. An invitation to connection. We didn’t begin with a loud bang. We began with the closeness of God.

From the beginning to the end, this is the story of the Bible, God drawing near to humankind. God with us. That was always His plan. The love of us. Our love of Him. Close. As close as breath. 

That was the song in His heart that day. The song He spilled into the sinews of us. A love song. The song He sang over us in this garden long ago. 

And God, Elohim, wasn’t alone when He sang us into existence. His very name is plural³, and the author makes this clear…

‘Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness..’’ Genesis 1:26

‘Let us make mankind…’  it’s a plural phrase meaning more than two, at least three.  The Spirit of God was present from the beginning ‘hovering over the waters’ (Genesis 1:2) and the book of John reveals that Jesus was ” with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1- 3).   

We were formed by a family, to be family.

YHWH Jesus God

At the moment of our birth, the birth of all our breaths, three hearts leant low and together sang us into existence with harmonies in three parts, a soaring crescendo of creation. And their breath breathed deep in song becomes the breath that fills our lungs. Becomes us. And we become. 

Human.

Imago Dei.

Even now you’ll find it buried deep within your soul, this song born of His Breath in you, this song that was placed there at the beginning of all your days, with lyrics lingering, longing for you to know, longing for you to awaken to the melody… You are a child of God made in His image, created like Him, according to His likeness. And when you let your spirit hear and when your soul remembers, you’ll sense it in your breathing, hear it in your core, as your heart drums out the beat: I am loved, I am loved, I am loved, I am loved. I am a child of God.

And love, ever since unfolds itself in song; the first song recorded in the Scriptures describes God’s creation of humankind, and the second song soon after is sung by the first human man about the creation of the first human woman (Genesis 2:23). Love has always been our most popular song theme. 

Whenever this song gets out of tune, whenever the words get muffled by life, remember: Love is the reason you exist. Love is your name, because Love is the name of your Father (1 John 4:8) and you are just like Him. Loved is who you are. Loved is what you are. And love is why you exist. To be loved and to love. 

Thomas Merton names it like a dictionary definition of us, 

“To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.”4

We weren’t just breathed into being. We were loved into being. And we truly love because we were first loved. By Him. 

We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19

YHWH Jesus God Love

In the garden at the beginning of all our beginnings, before the breaking of all our being, love was everywhere. All the abundant gifts of God spoke abundantly of God’s abundant love. There was no lack of love because there was no lack of God. 

But in all the lavish goodness, there was just one thing not good. 

‘The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’ Genesis 2:18

Adam, the first human being, wasn’t alone. He had God. He had all of the created world. 

But a beating heart is not always a thriving heart. A brave smile is not always a happy one. A rise and fall of lungs is not always a breath of fresh air enlivening a soul. 

The animals were not enough (Genesis 2:19-20) and not even communion with God alone was enough. God wanted human community and connection for His children, He wanted for us what He always had.

In the thrumming, humming network of my garden I watch the hummingbirds suckle at the bottlebrush tree, receiving sustenance, giving pollination, giving the tree the chance to spread and grow, while sunlight feeds them all and water nourishes everything in nature’s great wild tapestry of connected interdependence.

YHWH Jesus Love GodYHWH Love

These tangible, invisible threads seamlessly knit everything together, hold everything together. Threads of this living web, connect life to life to life, producing yet more abundant life, threading, weaving, cradling, like a safety net catching life when it falls, feeding it, flourishing it, enabling it to thrive.

There are physical ecosystems, and there are psychological ecosystems. Souls need ecosystems just as organisms do, spiritual ecosystems giving us the courage to fly, emotional ecosystems catching us when we fall, social ecosystems giving us confidence that we’ll be caught; the confidence that underneath everything there is something other than emptiness, something other than loneliness. Something other than the silence of an empty room and an empty heart.

We are individuals and yet we are more. We humans need more than just ourselves to fully be ourselves. Our souls require connection to flourish and thrive and grow. Without this safety net of belonging and love we fall. We fade. We fail. We become less than we were created to be. Less human. Less whole. 

Breathed into life by Love, we are our Father’s children. God is love (1 John 4:8). It’s the way He is. It’s who He is. We were created in love, by Love, for love. It’s the way we are. It’s who we are. No matter how strong, self sufficient and independent we like to think we are, every human being needs community to thrive as a human being. We need love. We need each other. We need God. Without all these threads woven together into the human ecosystem we fall, with nothing underneath to catch us.

‘The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’ Genesis 2:18

It was not good for the first human beings to be alone. So in love, God gave us one another. 

YHWH Jesus Easter God

“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:21-24

Our God is three in one, a triune community existing in loving relationship, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And our breath breathed into us by Love has woven into the sinews of our hearts this need, this drive, this yearning for community. We are simply not whole without it. It’s built into our DNA, into the structure of our souls. Our brains as babies need connection and affection to develop physical and emotional wholeness5.

IMGP5510IMGP5506IMGP5504

Community helps us thrive, but social isolation deconstructs us from the inside out causing debilitating physical and emotional illness. Research has found that social isolation is a health risk rivalling smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity in its negative impact on our health. Social isolation is also linked with a 50% percent increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease. And a 32% increased risk of stroke and loneliness has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.6

According to Richard Lanyon from the London School of Economics depression has increased as our incomes in the West have risen.7  It turns out that money really can’t buy love.

Love is not a human fad, a childhood fairytale, a whimsical past-time, a giggly game teenagers play, and it is not something that can be replaced or produced by social media. Human connection and community is a human requirement for life, as essential as the air we breath. 

God loves YHWH heals

We are primed for love, because we were created by Love, in love, for love.

It was not good for humankind to be alone in the beginning of all things and it still isn’t today. But love is sometimes easier said than done, and sometimes loving leaves us un-done.

On the day I first began to write this story down, this story of love, the love that began all loves. It was on that day that my beautiful daughter stomps downstairs in a rage and my impatience gets the better of me and I yell and she yells back and ‘Love is patient and love is kind’ (1 Corinthians 13) and it looks like love is nowhere in all this flooding frustration. It is not good for humankind to be alone, and yet it doesn’t always feel good to be together either.

On this planet that spins on chords of love, in this world that was forged by Love for us, we bearers of the image of God, children born of love, we forget our breath, forget our song and treat each other like dirt. If ‘love is patient and love is kind’, well there are days on earth it can look like love is nowhere.

When we forget how much we are loved. We forget to love. As He does.

How easily we slide, into apathy and alienation. How quickly we inflict our anorexic ‘love’ on one another, a love starved of gentleness and grace, a love starved of our first love. We cannot love in wholeness when our hearts are in pieces, and our only hope for wholeness is the perfect love of God. This is not a theory, a religious ideology or theological concept. 

It is an invitation.

We love because He first loves us’ 1 John 4:19

So the day I’m doing my final edit for this writing, this writing you are reading right now, as I’m weaving words on paper all about love, connection and community and how loved we are by God, I’m sitting in my kitchen, trying to think, trying to gather the worn threads of my mind together as overwhelming mayhem frays the edges of my soul. 

My kids are cooking dinner. And all around me there’s this layering clanging chaos, as my son cuts onions too close to his thumb, my daughter grates cheese on both the bench and the floor, our house guest cooks food while dodging in and out of children, as his daughters (aged two and four) dance unsupervised around the kitchen. My husband has had a headache for two days now, my daughter is pouting, reluctant to cook, and then my son forgets to check the macaroni and it burns itself dry, gluing globs of burned gloop to the base of the pan. And no amount of scraping is getting that macaroni off that pan. And no amount of biting my lip is gonna get me through this moment. And we (like you) were  all on lock down together in the middle of a global pandemic. And my mum is a whole spinning planet away and I wish she was here right now.

So, feeling overwhelmed, I slip upstairs to find space to breathe. I sit sullen in the corner of the verandah.  And I count all the ways it is all too much, living far from family, far from home, with biting lip fears of all this pandemic means, with struggling friends leaning on us and developing world stresses wearing on us. I feel thin and worn out and empty. “It’s too much”, I whisper to the evening breeze, “I don’t have enough”. Not enough patience, not enough kindness, not enough support, not enough energy. Not enough love. Not enough. 

The sun is slipping below the horizon spreading pink across the sky. An American Kestral alights on the telegraph wire and silhouettes against all the rosie pink. The breeze dances gently all round. 

Loved. God YHWH Jesus

“Is my love enough?” I sense God reply, whispering into the stillness of my heart, with the gentle stillness of His still small voice, “Is My love enough?”.  And I feel Him smiling strength back into my soul, breathing life back into my bones. And I breathe in, long and deep and slow. And I know it is. Enough. “Let go of all you are trying to do and hold onto Me” He whispers, “then do everything through Me. Your reservoirs are not enough. Mine are endless”.

Endless love. Like an ocean right there, filling, fuelling, reviving, restoring. 

Because the truth is, we alone don’t have what it takes to really love each other. But He does. We can’t sustain ourselves in the given-ness and grace that real love requires. But He can.

I return downstairs strangely revived and hug my daughter and look her in the eyes, my husband is helping the kids stir the sauce in the pot and I begin to scrub the macaroni off the pan before finding the lettuce for my son to chop. And this room that just a moment ago was all chaos and fragmentation, is now woven in light and laughter and all the glorious messiness of life lived in community. Together. With Him. With Him in whom there is always enough. 

And this is the strange reality that feels as magical as a fairy tale but is actually a tried and trustworthy truth; I don’t have the resources to sustain all that real love requires. But He does. And the more I love through Him, the more that love spills out on all around me. And I begin to see. I see My daughter of thirteen lean low and share a joke with our small house guests. I see my son of ten courageously prepare a salad for them and us (without severing his thumb off in the process). I see my tired husband find another gear and make all the children laugh around the dinner table.

I see all this around me and feel the change within me, and this realisation grows in my mind and my heart; when God became my enough, quietly He spilled over everywhere to become theirs too, His love splashing everywhere all around on everyone. I guess that’s what oceans are: drenching, uncontainable. Endless.

So, this is love: ‘We love because He first loves us’ (1 John 4:19). It’s not a religious concept, a Sunday school memory verse, or a theological ideology. Love is a life lived with Him, through Him, in the complex messy reality of human community. 

God Love YHWH Jesus

We are only ourselves, whole and alive, when we let the unfathomable unending love of God sink in beneath our skin, pumping through our veins, through to our beating heart. This love and only this love releases, restores and renews us, flourishing us, enabling us to thrive, giving us the strength to keep on loving when all our other resources run out. 

Unless the song is strong in our hearts, the first refrain of love in our soul, wholeness in love will always elude us. Jesus, He named it like pin on a map, like the one thing that matters, the one thing that makes our lives make sense, makes our pieces whole again. The most important thing: the whole-hearted love of God.

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 37-40

If we want to truly love, we need first to truly look, look into the loving face of God, loving Him with all we are and listening to the love He has for us, we the imperfect ones with a hundred bruises on our hearts and a thousand mistakes in our rear view mirrors. And then, only then, we will be equipped to live our lives through His love, His strength, His endless ocean of patience and kindness towards every person we meet, ourselves included.

When the human family breaks down, when our biological family breaks down, when the worn out threads of our own human heart breaks down, God’s love doesn’t break down, doesn’t wear out, doesn’t give up. It’s endless, vaster than the ocean, wider than a universe of light. 

His love is everywhere. Breathe it in. Live in it. Let it draw you up into who you really are at the very core of your being, beyond all the scars and bruises, beyond all the miseries and mistakes. Home. Home in your own beating heart. Home in Him.

It is only in this love of God that we find the perseverance, patience and kindness to really love each other. Because real love is not a feeling, but a gift, the free gift of ourselves given into the emptiness of the world, the emptiness of each other.  We receive the love we need by giving love to others. This is the paradox of love, the more you give it away through Him, in Him, with Him, the greater it grows in you, around you, for you.

Whether you are right now alone, struggling in the silence of an empty room, an empty heart, or whether you are right now overwhelmed by the cost that loving others requires of you, remember, ‘We love because He first loves us’. He loved you first. He loves you more. He loves you most. Fill yourself up with His love, from His endless reservoir of love, and from that place, only from that place, walk out to love your world; this world right here, right now, this world that needs real love more than ever before, a world of people needing to know they are not alone. Needing to know they are loved.

Endlessly. 

And this was the new commandment Jesus gave shortly before the first Easter, shortly before His death,  love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34) . It is here in His company on His road to the cross that we finally begin to glimpse, begin to comprehend, the depth of love God has for us…

Endless.

YHWH Love Jesus God

Journey Further

We love because He first loves us’ 1 John 4:19

How would your love for others be strengthened if you more fully allowed yourself to live in the reality of God’s love for you?

YHWH Jesus God Love

References,Notes and Credits

1 Genesis 1:11,12,21,24,25 uses the phrase ‘according to its own kind’ ten times preceding the creation of all living organisms except for human beings. 

2 C. John Collins, ‘Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary And Theological Commentary’.

3“Strong’s Definitions” Dr. James Strong,1890.   “אֱלֹהִים ʼĕlôhîym, el-o-heem’; plural of H433

4 Thomas Merton, ‘A Book of Hours’

5 Sue Gerhardt, ‘Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain’ Routledge, 2004

6 1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

7‘The Selfish Society’, By Sue Gerhardt, Simon and Schuster  2010

All photos were taken by Liz Campbell except for the two of three figures silhouetted against the sunset. These were taken by Dan Evenhuis.

5 thoughts on “Loved.

Add yours

    1. Thanks Katrina. I almost thought of cutting that bit out to shorten it a bit, so that is encouraging feedback!

      Like

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