God is Love/αγάπη/ḥéseḏ/rahma/prema - 1 John 4:7-21,
done at virtual service, North Austin Medical Center, 04262020
God is Love/αγάπη/ḥéseḏ/rahma/prema
1 John 4:7-21
This is the eighth week of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic (it started the week of March 8, by my count), and the restrictions have been getting tighter – to protect us and the sickly or immune suppressed – but it’s a different world than we thought we’d be living in this year. By the way, it seems that North Austin Medical Center is opening up some of the services – like family visiting the hospital and elective surgeries April 27, this Monday. Maybe we can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – let’s hope so and hallelujah! Yet, as I’ve continuously said, we are in crisis and in crisis mode – especially here in the hospital. As a Chaplain, it’s my duty to provide love, care, and comfort to the masses – whether they be patients, family, or staff. Those of you that have “service hearts” are doing the same thing with everyone you meet. I am blessed to work with such giving people!
But what is it in humans that goes – especially in times of crisis – to love, care, and compassion rather than – selfishly – protection, safety, isolation? Is it something inside of us that decides what to do? Is it something in the air? …Or something – maybe – spiritual?
Spirit is a Part of Us
There was a time in the world that people began to think of logic and reason only – in fact, it was called the Enlightenment, from 1685 - 1815– and European politics, philosophy, science and communications were radically reoriented during the course of the “long 18th century.” The participants called it “The Age of Reason,” and it spawned – among other things - the American Revolution, and a shoot-off from it was “the modern era” that was most of the 20th century – by the way, we are in the post-modern era today or even - pseudo modernism. We will talk about the shift and the mental views each one takes another time. But part of it is a shift from the modern way of thinking – questions that necessarily had an answer – to beyond – maybe it wasn’t about the answer to the question, but a journey. It is this journey that has brought back - in my opinion - the spirit of someone into the conversation about wholeness of a person. You from the medical field will know what I’m talking about and more, but the spirit is once again thought to have an impact on medicine, even healing.
For example, the medical Palliative care view began in the 1950’s, but really began to be a part of medicine just prior to the 21st Century, when people began to see that patients were the end – that their care was patient-ended care. “Palliative medicine is the continuation of the long struggle to accept life on its own terms, honestly and openly,” said Matthew J. Loscalzo. Doesn’t that sound post-modern, where structure is looked at with a guarded eye, and the people are turning inward and seeing what makes sense to them?
Transition into God is Love
Earlier in the service, you saw Joan Osborne sing a song by Eric Bazilian – of The Hooters fame (80’s pop, anyone?) – called “One of Us.” Eric is a Jew, though he says it was not a particularly religious song. It is “about experiencing something that totally changes your view of the world,” says Bazilian. Talk about post-modern, but it’s especially important in today’s COVID-19 pandemic world. Apologies to those whose view of God or the Creator is such that God being human is blasphemous; but it does cause one to ponder, what is God, and how does He interact with the world? And how does it make a difference in our lives?
God is Love
No matter what faith, in religious language, God is Love. Whether it is αγάπη (Greek – Christianity), hésed (Hebrew – Jews), rahma (Arabic – Islam), or prema or prem (Hindu); these are just some of the examples of a God who loves. This is true whether you have Abrahamic Religions, such as Bahά’i, Christian, Latter Day Saints, Unificationism, Islam, Ahmadiyya, or Jewish; , or so-called Indian religions, like Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikhism. Even polytheistic relgions – where they believe in many Gods – have angels or similar beings that represent love.
Here are just a few examples:
Rahma: Allah – the God of the Qur’an - has rahma on everything and everyone: Qurʾān 7:156 says “My rahma has encompassed everything.” Allah has this level of love for all his creation. It is particularly interesting that He chose to open each chapter in the Qurʾān by reminding the reader of only two of his names, Rahman and Raheem. (Allah has 99 names in Islam). Allah could have chosen any other name, but He wants the reader to know that He is loving, compassionate, forgiving, and always willing to accept you back no matter how many mistakes you make.
Hub: Another verse from the Holy Qur’an shows Allah’s love. This love is reserved for those who obey Allah. “Say, ‘If you love Allah, follow me, and Allah will love you and forgive you your sins; Allah is most forgiving, most merciful (Raheem).’” (Qurʾān 3:31).
Love in Hinduism is sacrament. It preaches that one gives up selfishness in love, not expecting anything in return. It also believes "God is love". A sacred text named Kanda Guru Kavasa quotes, "Oh holy Great flame, Grant me with love…”
In the Hebrew Bible, this element of His love חֶסֶד (ḥéseḏ in Hebrew) is wonderfully exemplified in His dealings with Nineveh, a place of wickedness and idolatry. In the book by the same name, Jonah, the famous prophet of Israel, was reluctant to go to this enemy city to warn its citizens of God’s wrath, knowing, that the LORD is “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness [חֶסֶד (ḥéseḏ)], One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah went – against his will – to Nineveh, and God forgave the Gentile people.
Micah 7:18 says “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy [חֶסֶד (ḥéseḏ]). (Micah 7:18)
Now, I am a Christian, and I believe God is love – in fact, it is one of the chief characteristics that give Him meaning for me. It is unbelievable that God the Creator of all should give a piece of Himself – have Him suffer and die – all so He could be in a relationship with me and you!
Although there are lots of scriptures about Love, the one I am choosing for today is 1 John 4:7-21. You have already heard the Scripture for today. Let me go over certain verses for you…
1 John 4:7-21 English Standard Version (ESV)
God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9
And then the latter half of verse 16
16 … God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17
And then, verses 18-21
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother [or sister], he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother [or sister] whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I will save the commentary for another time, except every time “love” is written in the text I just read, it is agape in Greek. Agape love, in the Bible, is love that comes from God. God’s love isn’t sentimental; it’s part of His character. There are at least 4 different types of love in Akoine Greek, in which the New Testament was mostly written; eros – romantic love; philo – friendly love; storge – empathy love; and agape love. All four are necessary, but agape is the most pure and exists despite changes in circumstance. God loves from an outpouring of who He is. As 1 John 4:8 states, “God is love [agapos],” meaning He is the source of agape love. His love is undeserved, gracious, and sacrificial. The New Testaments refers to agape love over 200 times.
Jesus said when asked that all the prophets and the law is boiled down into two commandments. It’s in the Gospels, this one from Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew 22 Jesus was asked by a lawyer - to test Him – which is the greatest commandment?
Matthew 22:37-40 English Standard Version (ESV)
37 And he said to him [using agape love], “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
2 Examples of agape
So, what does this love – agape – look like. I have 2 examples for you:
In Luke, another one of the Gospels, in Chapter 10 the story above is retold, slightly different. This time, the lawyer says “who is my neighbor” at the end, and Jesus gives the story of the Good Samaritan.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Bible, it is in Luke 10:29-37. The story is a stranger was going down from Jericho and got robbed. He was beaten, stripped of his clothes, and left half-dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite (one of the priestly class) came by separately and passed on the other side of the road. A Samaritan came by (who was despised by the Jews) and saw him, was moved with pity, and went to him. He bandaged his wounds, poured oil and wine of him (a sort of anointing him), put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he paid the innkeeper extra, and said he would come back a repay him to take care of him when the Samaritan was gone. Jesus then said to the lawyer, “Who was a neighbor to this man? Then go and do likewise.”
That is loving your brother or sister like the Elder John said in 1 John 4:20-22.
We have to be self-less and do deeds to help one another, especially through dark, troubled times. For Christians, we have to be like Christ, who came down from Heaven, took the form of a man, was scorned and betrayed by some of His own people, tried, beaten, and ultimately crucified because He loved mankind so much. Even when he was scourged, nailed to a cross, and dying the most painful death Romans could think of, he said “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” That’s the kind of love we have for others.
So what do we do in this time, in this setting? We have crisis, and crisis makes people selfish, closed-in, dark, afraid, sometimes depressed, or despairing. Do you feel like that? Maybe we all do, sometimes. But we have seen the other side of crisis, where people team up, act selfless, and bring care, comfort, hope, light, and – dare I say – love? Both giving and receiving love?
It seems to me that I speak today maybe to all 3 camps: (1) the one who’s overwhelmed, (2) the one who gives in love and (3) the one who receives in love.
For those who are overwhelmed and/or afraid. We live in tough times, with real dangers. Those who are not afraid are either rare, or lying, so take heart. There are a lot of others who are in your camp, so rest there. Have fellowship, and maybe empathy for those around you who are overwhelmed. Maybe go through one day at a time, and when you are ready, move! Do something – anything – to get unstuck and maybe accomplish something for someone else. There is a blessing in being selfless, but know that God loves you right where you are – even if you’re stuck - you are His child!
For the one who gives in love, know that we appreciate you. Know that the drive that is within you is noticeable and genuine, and you’re helping others who can’t help themselves. Know that there are people around you, and you will do more as a team than individually. And practice self-care. For the person who burns herself or himself out helping others is no help to anyone, and ends up being a burden in a time of need. Exercise, practice meditation, prayer, family time, and away time, whatever give you that rest you need or whatever energizes you. And if you have faith, know that you’re pleasing the one you serve.
For the one who receives in love, take heart, for God loves you, and He’s showing it by blessing you with so many who desire to help you. Look around you and know that God – Creator – or even people love you! Take rest, too, and do self-care so that you can get better, if that is possible. And know that the people who are doing it are getting blessed by serving you and want to serve you. And if you have faith, know that Jesus, the prophets, Muhammed, even God – at least in some faiths - suffered as well.
Did you see the medical specialists from China and the doctors from Cuba going to Italy in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis? It was when the Italian doctors, nurses, and medical staff were overwhelmed, tired, and some of them sick or even dead from the pandemic.
[Cut off to watch the video of Cuban doctors coming to Italy]. That is unbelievable - the courage of those folks!
You can say what you want about the Chinese government, but the Chinese medical people were experts because they treated Chinese patients who had come down with the virus. Johnny Wood, from the World Economic Forum, said that “[t]he doctors bring with them first-hand experience of dealing with the coronavirus, having previously helped to tackle the original outbreak in China's Hubei province that killed more than 3,000 people. Tough quarantine measures have seen the rate of new cases in China dwindle, while in Europe the outbreak continues to spread.” They came to Italy when their country was seeing a downturn of cases and Europe was escalating: And they came anyway!
What drives humans to do such magnificent acts? What is it in them that goes across the world, into harms way, for people they don’t know? I bet it’s love! It’s prema or prem (Hindu), rahma (Arabic – Qur’an), hésed (Hebrew), or αγάπη (Greek), we are giving love in crisis! It’s love for humankind that comes when people are struggling, sick, or oppressed – and the drive in us comes out to do something about it.
I have a hard time with the word “Hero.” It’s from my time in combat with the U.S. Marine Corps, and knowing that some Marines and Sailors didn’t come back alive or left pieces of them in Iraq. To me, those are heroes, and not myself, but that means maybe there’s work to do on me because of guilt. Because “Heroes” – in my opinion - are the ones who run to the battle or fight or pandemic and try to help. Those are heroes – whose love wins out and they are selfless.
I’m talking to a lot of heroes right now. Bless you, and know that people – and God – are watching you in the battle against this pandemic. Do it with love for the people you help, and the people who are with you.