Transforming love lived out
“To be saved cost you nothing, to be a disciple transformed daily
by the love of Christ costs you your life.”
The distinguished professor who taught the grad class I was taking was considered one of the foremost authorities on the Old Testament. As such, I was excited to take his class. Although known throughout the world’s religious circles for his expertise in this area, some of us in this class seemed more interested in knowing about the relationship between he and his wife. Years back, a devastating stroke had impaired her level of consciousness to the point of it being near non-existent. The story that hung in the air involved this professor and how he continued to take his wife to incredible concerts and theatrical performances (the make-you-weep-if-you’re-the-weeper kind) even though she was unable to appreciate, well, any of it.
There was a distinct anticipation among the students in the class because the professor’s wife had died a few weeks prior to the beginning of the class. So here I was, sitting in a classroom hushed with soft subtle conversation, waiting to see what would happen. Without a flicker of doubt, I could say that I was more interested in his emotional state and response to the death of his wife than his intellectual curiosity. Frankly, I wanted to see great love in action, or how he could work through his grief, in faith.
His footsteps rang out from the floor as he walked in, crisp and businesslike atop the snowy mumbling of conversation, which ceased right away as the professor moved swiftly to the lectern. He set down his notes, inhaled … and began to lecture. Three hours later, I had more than my share of notes that corresponded neatly to the syllabus. That pattern continued for weeks as he kept to the script, seemingly dictated by the forever-testing-my-patience syllabus!
The professor lectured easily and eloquently as if he was totally unaware that some in the room possessed a distinct curiosity about his wife. That is, until a young man asked, “How necessary is it to bring up the name of Jesus as we live out our lives for Him? Isn’t it enough to live a life for Christ without the pressure of articulating it to everyone?”
Without hesitation, the professor’s posture sank. “One moment, please,” he said. Time lingered with neither a movement nor sound being made by anyone. “I loved my wife,” he said, helplessly. He began to cry. He was heading somewhere. I didn’t know where yet. But it was surprising that he answered such a scholastic question with words of affection toward his wife. What does his love for his wife have to do with “talking about Jesus”? The questions revolving in my mind stopped abruptly as he continued.
“I loved my wife … I loved loving my wife.”
I began to cry.
I doubt it was just “the girl in me,” as I noticed men around me tearing up as well. I could only assume that what was coming next would be as brilliant as it would be compelling.
“I took my beautiful wife to the world’s most incredible concerts. I didn’t take her to hear the sweetest sounds with the expectation that she would appreciate it, or me, for that matter. I uplifted my wife with the commitment to love and to serve her with my whole life. Daily, I chose to love her with Christ’s love, because I discovered soon after her stroke, that my love needed to mirror God’s love for me. My continued love for her could not be dependent upon any kind of a response from her which would create some feeling of satisfaction in me.”
He continued, “When people would ask why I loved my wife in the way that I did, I had to bring up the name of Jesus because otherwise, people would point to me and say that I was a good guy. I loved my wife because of God’s radical love for me. You may think that choosing to take my deaf wife to a concert is a radical love, but it is nothing compared to Christ’s choice—dying on a cross for us. Now, THAT’S radical love!”
In his response, he focused primarily on God’s love for him. It was necessary for him to explain that he loved his wife, so that God would be glorified. He did not want to take credit for his choice to love radically. His actions were inspired by the love he received first from God. He loved his wife even when she couldn’t repay it. He loved his wife in this way not because she deserved it, but because he knew he didn’t.
What a silly thing, this love. When most of us would want to take the glory, this professor gave it away. I am often turned off by mentions of love in Christian circles; it’s usually too sappy and sentimental for me. However, this particular story reflects a love that does not turn me off. To talk of the love of Christ is easy. We sanitize and fluff it up and think we’re living it out in our easy, uncommitted and non-sacrificial efforts at giving love. I’ve lived that overly sappy and sentimental love as I used words like “I love you, friend” and then walked away at the first sign of their betrayal. I forget the sin that stained, entangled and deprived me.
The love of God is not normal or pretty. Rather, to us it seems absurd. And like all things absurd, there is both a joyous nonsensical part and also a dark and dangerous part. To love like this requires total commitment that oftentimes destroys who you thought you were. Such is the love of God. It is the kind of love that, without reason, sees me as I am and still loves me.
What in the world is this all about? It is a love, the love that is not bought in flowers or evening walks, but is bought in blood. This love is the Gospel. It is the love that goes way beyond any tangible pain. There is something unutterably strange and dangerous about the way in which God demonstrates His love revealed through the death of His Son. To think that God’s love is expressed most perfectly in a perfect man beaten near to death, streaming blood out of His side, forsaken by His own Father and hung up on a tree to die is ugly, even disgusting. It’s uncomfortable!
The Greeks talked about love of beauty and that the highest goal of humanity was to love the good. The Christians talked about loving the opposite, the very worst—and, by this, I mean “us.” This kind of nonsense must be divine; without doubt, it cannot possibly come out of humanity’s head.
My professor showed this kind of love. It’s the difficult kind. It’s the painful, tearful, fighting against the I-don’t-want-to-do-this kind of behavior. He knew himself well enough to know how extraordinary that kind of love is. And my professor met that radical love in Christ and was driven, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to embrace the opportunity to carry it on through his life.
“He loved his wife”—okay, I hope so. He constantly took his wife to hear beautiful music even though she couldn’t appreciate it. That’s worth taking note of. The story itself is proof that this is the love we need to remember and talk about. It’s extraordinary because it’s undeserved. It is the opposite of what we want to do, but it’s the love we know is right and glorious because we rarely appreciate the unstoppable love of God.
Knowing the love he had received from God, my professor knew he couldn’t claim it as his own. It would minimize the gift, end its beauty and disassociate himself from the love that Jesus practiced if he were to take credit for it. For not only would it be a lie, that people would call him a good guy instead of knowing where this gracious love derived, it would also cease to be extraordinary. He would be viewed simply as a very nice crazy person, not a great and fearsome lover transformed and living in Christ.
The radical love seen through the professor is the radical love we are to carry on. Our whole world is our mission field and none of us are called to comfort. Why? Because I can’t picture a comfortable way to carry a cross. Yet, our only other choice is the slow colorless death of comfort. Just as Jesus gave everything, we are to give everything, for living into His life of love is the terrible beautiful cost of the Gospel.
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet killers, rapists, betrayers, cheaters, judgmental hypocrites, those who strive for popularity over integrity, judgers, gossipers, or little white liars, (sinners), God took on flesh as Jesus Christ, came down and fought and bled and died for us. Because He loved us. Such is the love revealed through my professor, and such is the love that I believe in.