Not too long ago, my family and I celebrated the Advent season together. As the Christmas season approached, I went searching for an Advent calendar to keep us focused on Jesus and connected to each other through the season. I ended up choosing one on “the names of Jesus.”
Each day we turned over a different card with one of the names of Jesus written in beautifully scrawled lettering, surrounded by soft, Christmas-y designs. I bought it because it was beautiful, but I soon discovered how impactful it was to dive into those twenty-four different names of Jesus and the deeper meaning behind each one. I began to experience a fresh understanding of the vast-ness of God with each new name we discovered. He’s so all-encompassing that there’s really no way to sum up what He’s like in one, two, or even twenty-four names! Each day’s name was so simple yet so profound. “Shepherd.” “The Word.” “Messiah.” “Redeemer.”
One after the other.
One of His names especially seems to get mentioned a lot, especially this time of year: “Love.”
Love. Everyone wants to experience it, to know what it feels like, and to know what it looks like. But will we ever agree on the answers? We were all created with a need to experience love.
Some people might think Valentine’s Day holds the key: “Well you buy cards and chocolate and lots of balloons, and you eat at a fancy restaurant, and maybe there’s a proposal, and that’s what “love” is!” Well … maybe that’s not the whole story.
I don’t know if we will ever fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the embodiment of “Love,” but let’s take a closer look together because I believe there are some amazing treasures to be found along the way. Let’s start with a look in the Bible.
When the New Testament was written, there were four different words in the Greek language used to describe love. I wish we had four different words for love! The variety of experiences we call “love” each look vastly different from each other. Between our families, our friends, our romantic partners, our coworkers, the larger world around us, and even our own relationship with God, there’s just no way that we could sum up all of these experiences into one single word. And that’s how it is with Jesus – there is no way that His love could only be expressed one way. And yet He alone is able to offer sustaining love to all of his creation in the ways that they need it the most.
Let’s go back to the beginning for a minute. The VERY beginning. To the garden of Eden. Genesis 1:27 (ESV) says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
There’s a simple yet profound truth I’ve come to understand in recent years about God and His image – the image that He created you and I to bear. I didn’t hear this truth in a church service, and I didn’t hear it listening to a podcast or going to a conference. It happened over time during my own personal quiet times reading the Bible and observing how God has interacted with His creation throughout history.
The truth I discovered is this: God experiences emotions!
Maybe you already knew this and you’re thinking “THAT’S your big discovery?!” Or maybe you’ve never considered this thought before in your life and you’re thinking, “wait … what?!”
As I read through the Bible, I encounter story after story where God expresses emotions and feelings. Jesus also expressed an immensely broad range of emotions while on earth.
John 11:1–44 tells us the story of Jesus and his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus became sick to the point of death and word was sent to Jesus asking Him to come. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany and encounters Lazarus’ death and the grief of His friends, the Bible says that “Jesus wept,” John 11:35. Jesus was moved by the sadness of His friends. He knew what was going to happen next. He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He still allowed himself to feel the grief of the moment with his friends. Different translations describe Jesus during this story as being “moved,” and “touched,” and state how much Jesus “loved” this family. So why did Jesus allow himself to feel so much pain when He could have avoided it and just focused on the joy that was to come – raising Lazarus from the dead? I believe there’s an important truth here.
Jesus allowed himself to feel all the big feelings of being human. He didn’t shy away from them. We, as people made in God’s image, need to realize that Jesus set the example for us to experience this broad range of emotions in life: joy, grief, sadness, anger, thankfulness, compassion … love. Most of us will spend a lifetime learning to identify and unpack the emotions that surface inside us on a daily basis. It’s hard work, and often really uncomfortable! But from what I read in the Bible, allowing ourselves to experience this range of emotions is appropriate, and is actually an example that Jesus himself set for us.
If you go back and re-read stories from the old testament through this lens, you will begin to notice over and over again just how often God expresses big emotions regarding His people: compassion, love, anger, mercy – some of which we ourselves experience, and yet we sometimes condemn ourselves for having them. Having emotions, even the difficult ones, does not define us. Emotions do not have the power to make us bad, shameful or wrong. In fact, it’s totally normal! It’s part of being made in the “image of God” to feel all the many experiences of life. Where we get to encounter God is in our response to our emotions. This is where we get choices – choices to sin or not sin. Choices to stay stuck in a difficult emotion, or to cry out to God for help. Choices to remain faithful to our word or not.
“But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” Eph. 2:4-5 (NLT)
This rich mercy of God toward us, His creation, overflows into all of His actions. Because of God’s great love for us, we get to experience His grace that saves us, His resurrection that brings us to life, and His presence that sustains us. Throughout history, God has never once failed to keep His promises to His people – His promises to remain faithful, to care for us, to redeem us, and to cleanse us. This is such a humbling reminder! As I follow Jesus day by day and become transformed to be more and more like Him, I hope to gain a greater capacity to experience the many emotions of life and also continue to stay in tune with the Father and His goodness, and His purposes for my life.
“I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He (GOD) will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.” Ephesians 3:16-17a
“This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us.” 1 John 3:16a (GNT)
As we approach Valentine’s Day, ask yourself what it looks like to let God’s love overflow from your heart onto those around you. Maybe it’s through a card, or a thoughtful gift, or a phone call, or even simply a prayer. It’s ok for that love to look a little different in each one of us.
Whether married or single, surrounded by family or alone in our homes, let’s remember that no matter who else we may or may not have in our life, God promises to be with us. This Valentine’s Day if you’re single, know that married women still have to lean on God. And if you are married, remember that your husband is not God – he is simply a man in need of mercy and love, just as we are.
Let’s remember that God is Love – He is the very definition of it! Without Him, we cannot fully experience the love, joy, or peace we were created to feel. Without holding back from the pain of relationship, God made us in His image, came to earth to have a relationship with us, and then gave himself up to redeem that relationship. This Valentine’s Day, I’m especially thankful for Jesus and the love that He gives us so freely.
This is love.