It can be difficult to love someone who is feared

Published 9:29 am Friday, August 23, 2013

By the Rev. David Hernes
retired pastor from East Freeborn Lutheran Church

Can any command create love? Can any law or rule make people love each other? I think not. Love is something that cannot be forced into existence. It is not the result of effort or willpower.

If that is accurate, then we have a strange irony in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Those scriptures say that the greatest commandment of all is to love God. And this love is to be the strongest force in our lives, shaping everything we do.

But if a commandment can’t create love, where does that leave us? We are immediately confronted with a demand that is impossible for us to do.

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Many of us have tried to love God. But the word “try” betrays us. Have you ever observed a motherly-type woman who loves children interact with them? And observed another woman who is trying to love children? You can just see how naturally and freely the love flows from the first. And you can see how the second woman struggles with her own feelings.

Many years ago, I was in a group where the leader asked us, “How many of you would say that you love God, and know that you do?” I don’t remember how anyone else responded, but I remember I struggled, and could not say that I did. Yet, according to the Ten Commandments, that is the first and foremost response God wants from us.

One of the barriers to loving God that many of us have had to deal with — or still do — is our conception of God. Many of us have been deathly afraid of God. We have heard of the anger of God at sin, and thus at sinners. God has been portrayed as punishing, intolerant, vengeful. We have been left with the impression that God is some kind of combination police/judge/executioner. It is very difficult to love someone we fear.

There are many stories in the Old Testament that show God’s mercy and love. There are also many stories that feed our fear of God.

No Old Testament person could ever have guessed the action of God reported in the New Testament. The New Testament tells the story of God coming to Earth as a human infant, whose name was Jesus. Jesus lived a remarkable life of truth-speaking and commandment-keeping. Finally, this Jesus died in shame and disgrace, as a common criminal, as a complete failure. The New Testament says that his death was innocent. In some amazing way, his death took care of all human sin. In him the law was completely accomplished, and every wrong was paid for.

Thus, God was — and is — shown to be merciful, compassionate, patient and forgiving beyond our wildest hopes or dreams. In short, God’s very nature, core, essence, is love.

Jesus, in his life here on Earth, sowed seeds of love in everything he said and did. During his lifetime, these seeds began to germinate and grow. His return to life was a great victory over sin and death. That brought a veritable explosion of love for God that sprouted and grew in the hearts of his followers.

If we could truly see God’s true being, we would not be able to help but love God. And if we could see clearly and accurately what Jesus did for us, we would understand forgiveness as the most costly reality in the whole universe. And our lives would be controlled by love for God.