“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:9-11
It can be difficult to think about what God’s love might be like because it can be difficult to imagine what God is like. We think of God as ethereal, distant, unknowable, untouchable, unfathomable. How can I be loved by one who seems distant and unknowable? How can I love such a one that I cannot see, hear or touch? Jesus calls God, “Father”, and this is one step in bringing us closer to the ineffable God. Can we imagine what a parent’s love is like? It is that love that is offered without condition, that forgives great wrongs, that gives second chances, that is poured out lavishly and abundantly. And as a child, who amongst us has been in that situation in which all we wanted in the moment of crisis was our mother or father to come to us and comfort us, protect us, and love us. To be sure, not everyone has had positive relationships with their parents, but ideally, the parent-child relationship is the archetype of the most generous and fulsome love that can be imagined. Our parents should be our protectors and in whose arms we feel the safest, and thus the hymn-writer sings:
Fatherlike, he tends and spares us,
well our feeble frame he knows;
in his arms he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Jesus calls God, “father”, and this is one step closer to feeling and understanding the love of God, and what it might be like. However, this is not the entirety of the story. St. John’s gospel tells us of a God who comes amongst us, the very Word of God made flesh. God chooses to abide with his people. The immortal, invisible, ineffable, unknowable God, becomes mortal, visible, touchable, and knowable out of great love for his people. He wants to be with us, not only to save us, but because he loves us so much he wants to abide with us and be in our presence; and he wants us to be in his presence, too, to abide in him. He comes to us, and gives up all, to be with us for one simple reason. He loves us. When he comes to abide with us, we come to abide in him. And he gives us a simple commandment, to love one another. While the command is simple, its fulfillment is difficult. We fail at it all the time, but even when we find it hard to love, he never stops loving us. His life abides through all our errors and failings and brokenness. He continues loving us into joy. That is the purpose of his love, to give us his joy, and to complete our very being with his joy. There will be times when this seems a distant hope, but he continues to come to us, to love us, and believe in us, even when we have difficulty believing in ourselves.