Notice that we do not say that "love is god" - so often our idea of love is weak and selfish and sentamentalised. Sometimes we have made our idea of live into our "god".
Nor do we simply say that "God is loving" - as if love is just another of God's qualities.
We think of God in his creation of this world and this universe, we think of God in all his relation to humanity - yes, even in relation to human sinners - and affirm, "God is Love."
Now that isn't something to be taken lightly or easily. Is that your experience of life and of God? Is that the way you would sunm up reality? Or have you had experiences, as others have done, in which you have cried out, "Why? Why? Why? If God is Love, why is life the way it is? Why does this or that happen? Why did he let this or that happen to me?"
This past week we have all been shocked at the news from Childers. In the dark of night fire engulfed the Palace Backpackers' Hostel. Fifteen young people didn't escape the blaze and three more are missing. Just over 26 years ago we lived in that district. I was minister there for five years. Two of our children were born there. We don't personally know any of the locals portrayed on our TV screens, yet we feel the pain and dismay of the Isis district. The thought that this just may have been arson is unthinkable.
And for families with young people backpacking anywhere in Australia - the deep anxiety, were they there? As authorities continue the effort to establish the identities of those who died, their families don't know yet. If only in some way we could reach out in comfort to them - and to the survivors, who continue to live with the trauma of that night.
How can we say that God is Love when such things happen?
We look at the world of nature and the cruelty of so many creatures. Their young seem so winsome. The TV documentaries show them beautiful and grand - and give us scenes of "nature red in tooth and claw." Is this the world made by the God of love?
We look at the world of humankind and contemplate the inhumanity so often portrayed in the TV news - not just the cruelty and horrors of war, but the callous selfishness of so much human life. Whether we incline to the side of worker or boss, it's not a pretty sight. Whether we vote for the political left or right or middle, as abhor the bitter accusations and name-calling that have become part of politics today.
In every situation there are many complex issues. In war, industry or politics it is never easy to determine exactly where right and wronbg lie. But there is surely something in all of us that recoils at the thought of the deliberate inhumanity inflicted by human beings on one another. Is this the world made by the God of Love?
This week the crushing season has begun. It is a time to reflect that this world is not always a place that yields its increase with ample food for "man and beast." A large number of the world's population are living in poverty and hunger. In our own personal struggles with production and world sugar prices it is so easy to forget these people and to refrain from help we could easily give. But how do we square up these inequalities with the blief that God is Love?
This is a world in which there is much sickness and suffering. How can we reconcile disease and germs with a good God? Even if we ourselves are reasonably healthy, how can we really be sure that God is Love?
These are good, searching questions. It is well for us to realise from the start that belief in God does not mean that we are mysteriously relieved of all the trials of this life. In fact, the early Christians, when they affirmed that "God is Love", were doing so as people who had a greater share of suffering that most of us and much of their suffering had come because they were Christians!
I have seen cases of great suffering in which another family member has thrown belief in God overboard because "There can't be a God of Love is he lets my loved one suffer like this." But the person suffering has been all the more sure there is a God of Love because "He is with me in my suffering."
But there are those who say, "That is just escapism - closing your eyes to the realities of life." Tragically, that is true of the faith of some people - they refuse to face up to facts, they play a little game of "make believe" with reality, they try to protend there is no such thing as suffering.
I believe that God is Love. I also believe that we are made capable of recognising and responding to God's love. But I must also face the fact the response of the human race has been to reject God's love. That has affected the fabric of life itself - so that, if the world seems tupsy-turcy, it is because of this basic rebellion.
How then can I say that I know that God is Love? Shouldn't I be an agnostic, leaving the whole matter an open questions because of a lack of facts? Of course not! By no means! God has made himself known as Love right in the midst of this world of rebellion and confusion. He came in the person of Jesus Christ and to on himself the very suffering that causes us to question his love, making the cross itself the very symbol of his love to us and the means of bringing us back in love to himself.
In the world of suffering, can we say that God is Love? Think of this question again as we reflect on what Paul wrote in Romans 8 - "If God is for us, who can be against us? He did not spare his own Son I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from thelove of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vv. 31,32,38,39).
O Lord our God, we thank you that you are Love. Help us to understand suffering as we think of the suffering of your Son for us. Help us, by trusting in your Son, to come back to you, our waiting and loving Father, and to be assured of your love throughout our life. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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