Through the providential collusion of streams of my life, I find myself visiting London a few days prior to taking a week-long course on the spirituality and theology of the Wesleys; meanwhile, at the same time I am joining with others in “141 Days of Wesley” to read through all of Wesley’s sermons. The following is an insight that came to me during our experience of a Wesleyan “love feast” on the evening of Wednesday, August 22, at Cliff College.
“God is love. Can you share: what does this mean to you?
This is the question that was posed. And immediately upon hearing it, I began to think…
“well, that’s a great question, isn’t it? to contemplate the great mystery, the divine, the ineffable nature of God and divine love. At best, anything I might say or articulate would simply demonstrate the truth of Paul’s words:…for I only see dimly… I only see in part… (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12)I doubt that I have anything particularly worthwhile to contribute…”
But as the facilitator of the evening’s love feast repeated the question – “what does “God is love” mean for you?” – a particular image came to mind, and with it an inspirational insight not only into the love of God, but my present spiritual journey
This specific image came to mind: Just a few days before I set off on this journey, my little Kate – who has just begun preschool early because she is experiencing a bit of delay in speech – was beginning to say a new thing. Generally, on her own, it came out as “I va-you,” and, sometimes, “I va-you, daddy!” (her emphasis on the daddy!) As I sat contemplating “God is love,” this image popped into my head.
And suddenly, as though God sat beside me and whispered a comment into my ear, this image connected with some of my theological rumination from earlier in the day.
You see, we had begun just that morning to reflect on the theology and spirituality of John Wesley. For two days we have considered the historical perspective, now we were deep into Bible and theology. And as many will no doubt know, key to Wesleyan theology is his articulations of the work of the Holy Spirit via preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
As we worked and discussed our way through these three foundational doctrines and their relationship to the journey of faith, I experienced both a sense of assurance, and a sense of conviction:
Assured… because I do know the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. Like Wesley, I can even point to a time when it settled on me in a powerful way. In the spring of 2001, as I drove from my parsonage to my wife’s, listening to a sermon by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, I truly felt the same “warm” heart that Wesley described of his Aldersgate experience. That day, when asked “how are you?” I was able with faith and truth to respond, “forgiven and free!” And since that day, though I may experience the internal witness to different degrees, still I hold to that assurance of knowing forgiveness in Christ.
Convicted… because I do not yet know that “holiness” or “purity” of heart described as the result of the work of the Spirit’s sanctifying grace. I still struggle with various elements of sin that seem insurmountable obstacles to truly knowing the witness of God’s Spirit within my own; more often than I care to admit, in place of the fruits of the Spirit I still know the fruits of my “natural state”: impatience, frustration, anger, instead of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control…. To me, the result of sanctifying grace is the very longing I began this blog somewhat focused upon: purity of heart, knowing and experiencing the elimination of sin within. And I remain far afield from that goal!
Earlier that day, I had come to reflect that it is this process of Christian perfection within which I still struggle, and within which my doubts as to the sincerity or integrity of my Christian faith arise…
And then came this image of my daughter, trying but stumbling to express herself. And all the while, as she does so, I knew that she would get there; I knew, despite her fits and starts, one day she’d be able to say it. And still, when she finally does fully say what she has been trying to express – “I love you, daddy!” – still I felt a deep sense of joy. And every time she says it, my heart lights up. “I love you, daddy!”
And there it was, in the image of her trying but stumbling toward expressing something within her own heart, that suddenly I understood – albeit as though looking through a dark mirror or window – I experience – although just in part – what it means that “God is love.” For not only does God desire holiness in my heart and life – and not only does the word of God promise that such is possible! – but God knows, despite my struggle; despite my fits and starts; God knows, I will get there. And the joy and love I know in little Kate’s struggle and eventual success is just a part of what which God knows as I struggle forward in my own journey toward holiness of heart and life..