It’s a great song by The Beatles, “All you need is love” but is it true? The song seems to be saying that the sum total of all that can be known about ourselves, others, the world, can be summed up by love. Is this just 60s hippy stuff or is there a deep truth here?
It reflects the teaching of many of the early Christian teachers. Origen of Alexandria said that life is about love. Specifically about seeking God, about knowing His love. It’s become a bit cliched these days, but he said almost 2000 years ago that life is a journey. Rightly understood it is a journey deeper and deeper into the loving presence of God.
Origen talked of a journey of 42 levels. A journey of closeness to God paralleled by the Israelites journey through the desert towards the promised land. It’s a journey through distractions of the body, mind and Spirit.
On the first leg of the journey we battle with practical every day issues, to do with the body. Those every day things that distract us from God. Phones going off in the middle of a time of prayer, worries about getting the kids to school on time, arguments with the neighbours, that big plate of donuts that, when we scoff the lot, leave us no more satisfied than we were before. Not really. Those every day distractions block us from seeking God.
1 Corinthians 9:26-27 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave…
I don’t think Paul is literally talking about self harm here, but that the cares of the world can distract us from seeking God. And we need to reorder our priorities and be single-minded in seeking God. It doesn’t mean physical bad, spiritual good, by the way. It’s more – shaping our world into God’s priorities. Using the phone to text someone an encouragement, sharing our food with the hungry, making peace with the neighbours.
If, with spiritual discipline, and the help of the Holy Spirit, we can whip these things into shape, the second stage is open to us.
We actually take time to think on God. What or who we think about is what or who we love. What we love changes who we are. A few examples.
We think about cake. We eat cake. We get fat.
We think about and watch sports. We are motivated to get active. We get fit.
We think about all the people that annoy us. We get defensive. We end up bitter and twisted.
What we think about matters. Scripture says that we’ve replaced the glory of God for images of wood and stone. This means that rather than thinking about God and his love we’re thinking about cake or sport or revenge. How crazy is that, when if we think about Jesus Christ, truly we will become more like him?
So if we take Origen’s advice, we’ll make time to read the Bible. Make time to read Christian blogs, to order that book on Amazon about how great God is. (Here’s my recommendation for a good book to get on with – my fav of the last year). Here we are not just rushing from one bodily concern to the next but actually seeking to understand more about God. As Romans 12 says, we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Of course, the best book to read is the Bible. But it’s stage two of this journey into the love of God. Stage Three is the best bit.
I love Katy. I’ve had to make time in my diary, to put aside other distractions of daily life. I’ve had to take time to actually talk to her so I know what’s on her mind, what she is thinking. This leads me to a place where, after 23 years of marriage, I can say I love her more deeply each day. Why do I love her? I just do. Just because. It is no longer because of the good meals or the scintillating conversation, or the trust, or the shared experiences. It is just because.
The Song of Songs, one of the 66 individual books that makes up the Bible, is a love songs. Ostensibly written by King Solomon to his beautiful lover, it is allegorised as a love song between God and his people. This is the kind of relationship God wants with us. Deep. Intimate. A spiritual loving union.
When we’ve put aside the distractions of everyday life this is what the life innChrist is actually about. God is love and calls us into a love affair with him, where we can worship him, see his awesomeness and power and beauty and power and might and majesty and creativity and wisdom and protection.
Paul prays for the church in Ephesus, they may knows the fullness of God’s love. This is the final destination of the journey, that spiritual union. And so I leave the final word with St. Paul. Be blessed.
Ephesians 3:17-19 I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
This is part of a series of blogs on the book ‘Longing for God’ by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe. Order it here.