Have you ever felt the need to ask that question of anyone? It is the question the risen Christ Jesus put to Peter. It is worth emphasizing each word separately. DO, meaning is it true, is it real, can I be sure. YOU, yes I mean you, giving the question an absolutely unmistakable, unavoidable personal application. LOVE, this defines the special quality of the relationship. ME, not what I do for you, but me, who I am, a unique identifiable person. Jesus first loved Peter and was seeking confirmation of Peter’s response to his love. We know Peter answered in the affirmative.
This is the foundational question God asks of each one of us. No one can answer on our behalf. We each are his creation with whom he seeks a personal, intimate relationship. We can easily misunderstand this and think the emphasis is all on us loving God, but he first loved us; we are returning the love he endowed us with at birth.
God is the word we use for the Indescribable, Ineffable, Creative Energy or Being that brought all creation into existence as an expression of Selfhood. There is something of God’s self in everything created. In its study of an ever expanding universe science enlarges our spiritual horizons, metaphysics deepens the mystery even further speaking of the oneness of energy and matter and the interdependent relationship of all things. The German theologian Paul Tillich described God as the ‘Ground of our Being’. I remember a prominent Presbyterian minister in Durban who disliked Tillich’s theology, saying he could not pray “Dear Ground of our Being,” he needed a face. We cannot have a loving, personal relationship with Energy, or Force, we need a face.
In accordance with Paul’s teaching (Rom. 1:20) theologians see creation as God’s first incarnation, presenting the ‘face’ of God. St. Francis saw creation as the first Bible. The second incarnation happened through Jesus when, as John says, the ‘Word became flesh’ (Jn 1:14). Jesus became the ‘human face’ of God, disclosing the nature of God as Love expressed in grace, goodness and mercy. A leading Jesuit mystic, and scientist, Teilhard de Chardin, declared, ‘The structural shape of the universe is love’. ‘God is love’, writes John, ‘and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God’ (1Jn.1:7). We don’t take the initiative – as we may in a human to human relationship. ‘We love because God first loved us (1Jn.4:19). Ours is a responsive love to the One who cannot love us any more than he does already, and no matter what we do cannot love us any less.
We are made by love, for love. One theologian says quite simply, ‘We are conduits’. Any blockage prevents the flow of life. A little boy came into our lounge and on seeing a framed print of Herbert Beecroft’s famous painting of the face of Jesus, asked “Who’s that?” When we said it was a picture of Jesus who loved all boys and girls, with a tear-filled eye and quivering lip he replied, “I don’t like (luv) him, ‘cos he took my mother”. He had been told an untruth about his mother’s premature death, damaging his image of God and blocking any possibility of him realizing a love that embraced him.
Much like the boy we think of God as separate from us, (even hurtful) which cannot be true if there is something of God in us. We gaze into the night sky and think of some ‘Being’, beyond our sight and comprehension, controlling it, but God is not ‘out there’. God is here, in life and living. We all struggle with this paradox; God is other than us, but God is also in us, in our DNA, for we are part of his creation which he loves.
When our answer to the question, ‘Do you love me?’ is like Peter’s, in the affirmative, how then do we begin to express our love in response to God’s love of us? We ‘fall into’ his love. We learn to love what God loves. God loves the earth and everything he made as ‘good’. In our sense of wonder at the awesome beauty of nature; be it butterfly or bird, sunflower or sunset, we are responding to his love and divine presence in things. In our genuine concern and compassion for the other person we are being conduits of his love and simultaneously mirrors of God’s presence, for any action of love is sacred.
Aware of God’s awesome complexity Richard Rohr writes of God’s presence and intimacy: ’To be present in prayer can be like the experience of being loved at a deep level. I hope you have felt such intimacy alone with God. I promise it is available to you’. Embraced by such limitless love maybe the words of the old song would be appropriate, “I can’t help falling in love with You”.