What Is Love?

By Kristi Bothur © 2012

"This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." 1 John 3:16

How many times have you heard someone say, "How can a loving God…?" You fill in the blank. How can a loving God allow tragedies? How can a loving God not heal my husband? How can a loving God allow my child to die? How could a loving God look the other way while I was abused?

The natural conclusion to come to with such questions is that a loving God wouldn't allow such things to happen – and since tragedy and sickness and unfairness abound in our world, then there must not be a God, or at least not one who really loves us.

But can we unpack that way of thinking a bit? The very question assumes that the purest expression of love is protection – from all harm, all discomfort, all sorrow, and all pain. The true proof of love is the comfort and happiness of the one who is loved.

What would life look like, if God followed that "rule"? All of his followers would lead truly blessed lives – no serious illness, no tragic losses, no financial difficulties. You could tell by the outward measures of wealth, health, and happiness who belonged to God's family.

After a while, wouldn't people be clamoring to learn how to be on God's side? Only it would be for the material blessings, not for the unseen ones; it would be for the gifts, not for the Giver. Jesus even encountered this in his ministry when a crowd came looking for him after the feeding of the 5,000. "You are looking for me," he told them, "not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled" (John 6:26).

No, material blessings and protection are not the ultimate proof of God's love, nor is the lack of them evidence that he does not exist or is not pleased with us. Then what is the purest expression of love? Jesus answered that question in John 13:13, saying, "No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends." The same sentiment was captured by the apostle John in 1 John 3:16, "This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us."

When we are overwhelmed by our circumstances and tempted to question God's love and goodness, there is one place to look for the answer – the cross, the fulfillment of all God's promises. There, Jesus settled the issue of both God's love and his justice for all eternity. He reassured us that this physical life is not all there is, and that God's love is seen most clearly not when he keeps us from physical harm, but when Jesus went through excruciating pain and loss to make a way – the only way – for us to be in a right relationship with God.  And that relationship can carry us through the times of heartbreak and loss, and will continue into eternity, where there are no more tears or sorrow or good-byes. Hallelujah!

Father, it's so easy to doubt your love when I am in pain. I just want to be sheltered from it. Help me to rest in you and trust in your love, even when life's circumstances tempt me to question your promises. Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kristi Bothur is a pastor's wife, teacher, and mother of four - one on earth and three in heaven.  She has a heart for other women who have experienced the loss of children during pregnancy or in early infancy, and she has a passion for sharing the truth of God's word in a way that makes sense in everyday life.  She and her husband are the founders of "Naomi's Circle", a ministry for parents of babies in heaven (www.naomiscircle.weebly.com).  You are welcome to contact her at naomiscircle@gmail.com.  Kristi lives in Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband and daughter.

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