Our church has been considering the book of Jude these past few weeks. Jude is that penultimate book of the whole Bible. It is also often considered by some as “the most neglected book of the New Testament.” Jude is a theological powerhouse for sure, and a simple read through of the one-paged wonder shows its abiding relevance especially in our world today. Though many often sprint through the first verses to dive into the greater body of Jude’s work, I want to invite you to pause and reflect on a single word from the very first verse of Jude: beloved.
Now there is a sense where that word “beloved” is archaic. It’s old and rarely used in common speech. It simply means “dearly loved,” or “a much loved person.” In our modern context the word “love” has been hijacked. Our world has twisted this word and warped it through and through. This is nothing new. The same horrors we encounter today existed there and then. It is just easier to access them today, and when it comes, it does so at lightning speed. None of this ought to surprise us.
Nevertheless, it is still disturbing when you take an honest look out into the world around us and examine what is presented when you search for the word “love.” Well, what is it that comes forward? Typically, love is presented as synonymous with lust. But lust is not love. There are some similarities in actions, gestures, and in verbiage with real love. However, there is nothing similar regarding intent, nor in their ultimate goals. What do I mean?
Lust is the pursuit of a person or thing for selfish ends. You look to use a person as an object to be spent in your gratification. This is what masquerades as love in our world in film, online, in print, and in person. It also continues in many broken relationships today. It has the trappings of love, the aroma of love, the garb of love, but it fails in all its promises. What is it like? It is like the difference between a bride being met in her gown at the altar and a bride being met in her gown in the tomb a century later. Same woman. Same dress. Yet the surrounding circumstances transform beauty into horror. This distinction between lust and love has been lost in our moment.
How did this all come to be? We sought the gift of love apart from the Giver of love. This is where our careful consideration of Scripture can be so helpful for us. Why is that the case? Because in the Bible we learn about God, and ourselves. In Scripture, we learn about our hearts in ways we never could without it. We may have innumerable examples of love all around us, but not all of them are good. If we have any hope of succeeding, the best place to begin with is the original. But what is that original? The love of God.
Now the Bible speaks of God in many ways. These descriptions of the nature of God are often referred to as His attributes. Some of these attributes are unique to God. For example, God is eternal, infinite, from Himself (this is called God’s aseity), all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, simple (that is without parts), and others. Some of God’s attributes are echoed in humanity such as goodness, truth, justice, and love. However, our understanding of love is different than God’s.
We understand love in part, because of our experience with it in our own world. We may think of our own love for a parent, or our spouse, or our own child. Love in all these ways are analogies of God’s love for us. But even behind this love which God has for us lies a love that we can never fully comprehend as creatures. And what is that love? It is the eternal, infinite, good love that God naturally has in Himself, by Himself, for Himself from eternity past to the present. I am speaking of the mystery of the mutual and ceaseless love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Examples of this love are seen in the Gospels such as Jesus’s baptism (Matthew 3:17) and the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).
Jesus magnifies this eternal love in His high priestly prayer in John 17 where he remarked that the Father has loved Him from “before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 ESV) The eternal love between the persons of the Holy Trinity is matchless in our world.
Everywhere else in the universe when love for ourselves trumps everything else, it is horrific, dismantling, and even devastating to the relationships in our world. Why? In the selfish love of humanity, we make a creature (whether ourselves or another) the ultimate point of our affection, adoration, and our hope. It can’t handle such weight because it was never intended to.
Nothing in our world was designed to handle the weightiness of our heart in its fullest and highest devotion. The only thing that can is God. He alone can shoulder the weight because our hearts were made for Him. As African bishop Augustine famously said, “Your stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” God is love, but love is not God. We have been made to love Him supremely. When we love Him supremely, we are enabled to actually love everything else rightly. Until our hearts find their highest goal set in God, we will only ever offer a diminished and cheap echo of the infinite love of God for Himself and His people.