Today’s guest post comes from one of my favorite people–Amy Lannin. Amy is Crossing Kids parent and volunteer who works on both the workshop teaching and curriculum writing teams. She is also a professor at MU where she shares her passion for language and writing with students and faculty members alike.
When I was in junior high school, I had one of those cheesy 1970s posters on my wall that stated “Love is Now” with a beautiful forest scene. I looked at that poster every day for a few years. I loved the outdoor scenery and the warm thought of “love” as “now.” Middle school and junior high do not often feel like places and times of love. Random thoughts through the years since have made me ponder what that means. What is love and why would a poster-maker state that “love is now”? Hasn’t love been for all time?
Recently I have been reading Timothy Keller’s King’s Cross. In this book he is analyzing the love of Christ, defining it and giving examples. His view is that love is sacrificial. We cannot love another without giving something of ourselves. In Christ’s example, he gave himself. He also gave aspects of himself along the way (his patience in exchange for people’s hard hearts, his healing in place of disease, etc). As Keller puts it, “But if you ever try to love somebody who has needs, someone who is in trouble or who is persecuted or emotionally wounded, it’s going to cost you. You can’t love them without taking a hit yourself. A transfer of some kind is required, so that somehow their troubles, their problems, transfer to you” (p. 141-142). Is this the way I have viewed love?
I may seek contentment in smooth sailing, in trouble-free times, in easy relationships. But these cannot provide a deep, lasting sense of peace. Nor should my work and time be for the purpose of serving others so that I can find contentment.
As we prepare for a new school year, a new year of ministry at Crossing Kids, and perhaps other new transitions, it’s helpful to get re-focused, re-grounded in the view of why we do any of this, why our “work” matters in this world. And doesn’t this boil down to loving others, being willing to give of ourselves, to sacrifice and be willing to take on what may not be easy? I hope in my own life that “love” is “now.” But may I see that being a loving person may not be enough. It’s not just about giving of self and time but about taking on the needs of others, being willing for that transfer to take place. Keller sums up his definition this way: “All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice” (p. 143).
So, what is this substitutionary sacrifice? It’s not just that Jesus died in place of us. That alone is tough to really understand. What is even more challenging is the idea that he separated himself, that he went into the realms of death. It was this part of his suffering that sent him into horrific struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane. In my human brain, I think that his sweating blood was pondering the physical suffering that awaited him. Though that would have been extreme, his real desire was to not face the actual taste of death, meaning a spiritual death.
Keller’s book has been enlightening on this aspect of love as well. We picture Jesus praying in the Garden. We know he is in turmoil. Keller compares this scene to others in history when a condemned person is awaiting death. These scenes are usually, maybe surprisingly, peaceful and accepting. There is a knowledge that the physical suffering is almost over, that the fight is almost done. This was not the case for Jesus. Here we see the “soon-to-be condemned” in agony. Why? What did he understand that we have not quite fathomed? What was he facing?
If I compare this to the definition of love as substitutionary sacrifice, then Jesus was relying on God’s will to take upon himself the “troubles” and “problems” of the world. These sins were transferred to him. He had to become our scapegoat, our sacrificial lamb. Do we have even a taste of what this sort of love is? This is the love that I hope is and can become part of our “now,” part of our present understanding, even in small degrees. God’s love for us moves beyond the daily momentary events (of which are still important to him) and into the cosmic mysteries that we can only attempt to fathom.
In many ways, this is a time of new beginnings, and I find comfort in knowing that this time of “beginning” is part of a much bigger master plan that goes back to the Garden in Genesis and the Garden in Gethsemane. God’s love for us is that string that binds us, connecting us to the events of the past, the moments that make up “now” and the future hope we have.