L is for Lovers

Do you remember the slogan, “Virginia is for lovers”? The abbreviation for Virginia is VA (or at least that’s the ugly post office abbreviation). So yours truly, back in the day, enjoyed seeing (maybe it was just imagining?) bumper stickers and the like that read VA IS FOR L♥VERS.
    Well, the Almighty is for lovers too. Indeed, he is the greatest lover of all.
    It’s a bit slow in appearing in the Bible, and rightly so: Creation is not an act of love. Love involves mutuality, as the lover bestows himself (herself) upon the beloved, and he (she) returns the love to the beloved in an act of counter-bestowal. Love is a dynamic of giving and receiving and giving back and receiving back, and what is given is not extraneous but is in fact one’s own being.
    I can give you a box of food without loving you. It doesn’t make my gift a bad thing. God can give us a world of food, indeed a whole garden, a paradise! But that doesn’t mean he loves us.
    As I said, the Bible is slow to affirm that God loves us. It finally happens in Deuteronomy, where we learn that not only did God love Abraham and his descendants, but God wants us to love him. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God . . .”
    I like to point out that Harry Potter is under no obligation to love J. K. Rowling, his creator. But we humans are in fact under an obligation to love our creator.
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    God is our lover because God wants to give us himself, give us divinity so that we can be on a level with him and love him in return.
    Herbert McCabe wrote that the most important statement of Jesus, ever, the absolutely most important thing he said, was: “The Father loves me.” When we look at Jesus, we see God loving a human being. Jesus demonstrates that it is possible for God to love us, possible for us to love God, possible for a sort of equality between us and God to be established.
    Something is on offer here that is bigger than mere creation. And creation is rather big and mysterious already; it’s nothing we can be “mere” about! But love is bigger.
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    Robert Jenson (see his commentary on the Song of Songs) emphasized that there’s no explaining love. Why did God choose Israel? No reason; he just did it. He loved her. Why did I fall in love with Susan? Why have you, dear reader, loved those whom you have loved?  We can give “reasons,” but all our reasons fall short of the reality. God’s human representatives often told Israel: God didn’t choose you because you were especially great or beautiful. God chose you because, well, God chose you.
    But—here’s the point about this Lover, the greatest of all lovers—having chosen Israel, he made her able to love him in return.
    That’s why the Song of Songs is in the Bible. And why it’s one of the best books of the Bible. In my view it is superlative, surpassed only by the book of Job. But that’s another essay for some other letter of the alphabet.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."