by Cameron B. Crickenberger
At Safe Haven, we talk a lot about God’s love. Through our ministry, we hope that those who are suffering and crumbling under the pressure of this world will come to know God’s love.
Defining love, though, is not something that we often think to do in our culture. But, as my pastor pointed out last Sunday, the word ‘love’ is used constantly now. I love ice cream, that band, my friend, the feeling of sun on my skin, my wife, my car, my kids … the list goes on. Do we really feel the same way about ice cream that we do about our closest friends? And does this really help us to understand how God loves us?
One way we can describe love is to say that love is self-giving. In other words, to love someone is to give ourselves to them without reservation. Love is to be for someone with every fiber of our being, to give our lives and energy and time, our very being, to that person for their good.
This is what it means that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). We see this love in that God is Trinity, which means that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are distinct, but all three are also only one God. And this is how God the Father loves his Son. The Father gives himself, his whole self, to the Son in love. And the Son gives himself back to the Father in love. They are for one another, existing for the good and joy of the other. This mutual self-giving, this gift that is responded to in a gift, this love, is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and Son. The Holy Spirit is the fruit of this love, as a child is the fruit of the love of a man and a woman. The Holy Spirit is the testimony to this love. So, when we know the Holy Spirit, we know that God is Love.
God is love itself, and so when he acts towards us, he acts in self-giving love. God gave himself to us fully in Jesus, holding nothing back. He gave himself to us without reservation. He didn’t defend himself when we killed him. Jesus’s life and death are the greatest testimony to God’s loving gift of Himself to us. And it is by Jesus’s self-gift that we come to know God and be with him. Jesus brings us back to God, and we offer our lives to God as a gift in return for his gift: mutual self-giving.
This is part of what we mean when we say that we want people to come to know God’s love. We want them to know that God has given himself to them, for them, without reservation. He is fully committed to them. He has laid everything down for them, even dying for them, and he wants to bring them back to himself.
But there is another piece to this—when we respond to God’s love for us by giving our lives to him, we are now called to live our lives as God has lived towards us. So, just as he has loved us, he calls us to love others. Just as he has given himself to us in love, he calls us to give ourselves to others in love.
This is a frightening thing; it leaves us exposed and vulnerable. It’s risky, and love is often painful because of that. And this pain causes many of us to close ourselves off from love. But when we do so, we also close ourselves off from God. We become self-protective, scared of others, and slowly dying of our innate hunger and thirst for love, love from God and love from others.
This is what our ministry is aimed at: helping people meet (or re-meet) this God of trinitarian Love so that his selfless, self-giving love can transform the way they see themselves and other people. God gives himself fully to us, and it is only in this that we find healing for our past hurts and find the ability to truly love others again.