Janie B. Cheaney: The significance of human love | WORLD
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Janie B. Cheaney: The significance of human love


WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: The significance of human love

How can we say our God is love?


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday the 14th of February. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Today is Valentine’s Day, so all of you who need to buy a present and have so far forgotten–this is your reminder. WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney now with her own reminder of sorts–a reminder of what human love really signifies.

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Before Valentine’s Day became a marketing gimmick for chocolate and lingerie, it recognized a martyred saint. Or perhaps two or three martyred saints, all named Valentinus. Historians disagree on exactly how a man beheaded for preaching the love of Christ became a symbol of romantic love, but I’m wondering more about the phenomenon of love itself.

I have friends in continual pain, friends at death’s door, friends experiencing heart-rending grief and soul-sapping marriages. Not to mention all the people I don’t know who populate the evening news: those butchered in war and swept away in floods. The age-old question haunts me sometimes: How can we say our God is love?

Well, by choosing to say it: “God is love,” I John 4:16. Even more by choosing to see it.

Start with creation. Mythical creation stories imagine a world born of conflict as god-sons defeat god-fathers and carve up their bodies to make geography. Humans are an offshoot of the struggle, or even an afterthought.

The Biblical account pictures a universe brooded over and called out of darkness, centering on a single blue planet. Deep calls to deep in the roar of waves as the ocean heaves heavy sighs and pushes up land. Living cells link and separate and multiply, swirling through water and bubbling through sand. Being calls forth being. It’s not conflict but ferment: the love between Father, Son, and Spirit so dynamic and joyful it must find expression.

God makes a universe not just by love and for love, but of love.

In his science-fiction trilogy beginning with Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis argued against the notion of space as a, “black, cold vacuity.” Our ancestors were right to call it “the heavens.” Lewis calls it “the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly upon the Earth with so many eyes.”

Astrophysics can make a case for cold, unfeeling space, but no branch of science can account for love. Recently I watched The Tree of Life, a 2011 film directed by Terrence Malick. It’s more a visual poem than a movie, and it begins like this: “[T]here are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which you will follow.” To follow the way of Nature turns love inside-out and makes life a power struggle few can win. But even in the grip of pain, death, and crushing loss, Grace shines through sunlight and whispering leaves and flowing water. There’s a choice to make. Either we’re born in conflict and die pointlessly, or we, like the universe, are made of love. And for love.

At the hinge of history, after Nature had wrecked relationships and leveled cities, Grace dropped a single seed. It—or rather, He—took root and sent ripples backward and forward in time. Every day is Valentine’s Day. Can you believe it?

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

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