The 'outrageous love' that cannot be earned
By Nils von Kalm
May 8 2018We need not be afraid of failure and loss because they open us up to an experience of God’s abundant love and grace. Nils Von Kalm reflects.
There is a line in the movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, in which the elf Tauriel is mourning the death of her love, Kili. In her grief, Tauriel cries out, “If this is love, I don’t want it… Why does it hurt so much?”. The reply from her friend, Thranduil, is profound: “Because it was real.”
Love, by its very nature, will hurt because it is always open to loss, whether it be in the form of death, abuse or rejection. Love is vulnerable and is thereby a gateway to suffering and sadness. But it is through this gateway that we find life, joy and meaning.
As I go through life, I am increasingly captured by the conviction that love is the only way to live. I see it in my everyday interactions with people. When I relate out of fear and insecurity, it doesn’t satisfy. But when I relate out of a desire to build someone else up, then it satisfies. Love is where I find life, the life my soul craves, the life that I have always longed for in my heart of hearts.
The great paradox is that I find more of this life as I continue to fail. It is through consistently getting it wrong that I see the grace of God in my life, grace that is not earned through performance, but is just given as a gift.
We see this grace constantly throughout the gospels. There is a profound little scene in Luke’s gospel where Peter has just caught a huge catch of fish after Jesus told him to put his net over the other side of the boat. Peter is not so much amazed at the enormous amount of fish he has just hauled in; he is amazed by the unbelievable generosity that Jesus showed him. In fact, he is so overwhelmed that he can’t handle it and tells Jesus to go away, “for I am a sinful man”.
Peter expresses the deeply held belief of most of us, that we just don’t deserve such outrageous love, especially when we haven’t done anything to earn it. But Jesus believes in Peter, knowing that Peter will fail. Jesus says, no, I want you, with all your flaws. Because I love you. In fact, you’re going to be the leader of this movement when I go.
Later in the gospels, after Jesus is raised, we have another strange scene involving Peter. In John 21, Jesus pulls Peter aside and asks him no less than three times, “Do you love me?”. Why does Jesus ask this question not once, but three times? Is he that emotionally insecure that he needs his friend’s affirmation reinforced that much?
Not at all. To the contrary, it is Jesus who is affirming his friend. Surely still reeling from his denial of his Lord at the time when he needed him most, Peter is lifted up by Jesus. Often when there is a moral failure by a leader in the church, that person is forced to step down. And often that is the right course of action. But Jesus knew Peter’s heart, and he got him to step up. Jesus believed in Peter; he knew that Peter’s failure didn’t define him. It wasn’t who Peter really was. Instead of dismissing him and getting someone more reliable to step into the breach, Jesus reaffirms to Peter that, as he said early in his ministry, he is the rock on which the church will be built. Peter is not just forgiven and told to go on his way. Jesus gives him a job to do.
What grace! What affirmation of our identity right in the middle of our brokenness! This is love, that we are broken but we are loved all the same. And loved for a purpose: to bring this love to the world, in all its brokenness and through all our brokenness. Because if we, broken vessels that we are, can be used to bring the love of God to the world, then a broken world is more able to relate to it and receive it with gratitude.
All around us we are swamped by messages of how to get the life we want. Buy this product, marry that man, travel the world, get more involved in church. All of these things may be fine in their rightful contexts, but they will never fill the hungry soul with the reality that we have been born for.
Love is the only thing that can change us from the inside out. The suffering love of Christ is the definition of what love is. We have no better example of love than Jesus, who suffered and went to the cross for the world he loved so much.
Peter knew this, but he found out the hard way. That’s really the only way we ever find out, through getting it wrong. That is why grace is needed and grace is given. The good news is that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
It is through suffering love that the world is changed, the suffering love of Christ shown in his life, death and resurrection. He told us that the road to life is narrow, but the point is that it is the road to life. There is no resurrection without death, but there is resurrection. That is the great Christian hope. Through his resurrection, he has defeated death and paved the way for the final coming together of heaven and earth in glorious union, that day when there will be no more suffering and no more death.
Suffering is not the end; love is. We love because the suffering God first loved us.
Nils von Kalm is a Melbourne writer and is currently the Church and Community Engagement Coordinator with Anglican Overseas Aid.