A Beautiful Curse: Reflections on Pregnancy

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21

In the creation story, God curses the human race for its sin and lack of trust in Him as a Good Creator. This curse results in an increase in pain and suffering for both men and women. The specific curse for women was increased pain in childbirth. Often times when Christians speak of childbirth, we completely skip discussing the effects of the curse and jump right to the amazing joy that children bring. Often times, the consistent pain of gestation and the agony of labor are completely avoided in our conversation about the beauty of pregnancy. But, part of redemption is knowing the suffering, pain, despair, and darkness that comes before the gladness, joy, happiness, and the light. Part of the Christian’s witness to the beauty of pregnancy and childbirth is being honest about its inherent pain and suffering. When the whole of pregnancy is acknowledged, then and only then, will we see the true beauty of pregnancy and new life.

I see no better way to discuss this truth then expressing the deep admiration I have for my wife, Stephanie. Stephanie is currently seven and a half months pregnant with our twin boys, Abel James and August John. Her pregnancy has not been easy, and the labor will not be any easier. But, Stephanie amazes me every single day with her love and deep affection for our sons. And, her love for our boys is best realized in showing all the pain she has, is, and will suffer for them.

Stephanie’s pregnancy started with seventeen weeks of morning sickness. Often she would vomit more than fifteen times in a single twenty-four-hour period. Cologne, Indian food, having an empty stomach, even elevator rides, would all trigger her digestive system to revolt in disagreement. Even if there was nothing in her stomach, she would experience constant acid reflux and dry heaving. At week sixteen she hit the climax of her morning sickness when she also got a stomach bug and had to be hospitalized for two days. The stomach bug depleted her body of all its electrolytes and made her tachycardic. The boys didn’t help, because they just kept taking what they needed from their mom. For two days, she had a heart rate of over 125 bpm and could barely walk because of how week she was. But, she persevered.

After the hospitalization, Stephanie’s morning sickness did start to subside, and she had a brief respite from any major discomforts. But starting at around week twenty, her body began to prepare for the birth, and the constant pains of a changing body structure started. Abel and August’s growth has started to hurt and pain Stephanie’s body. Her abs are stretching and separating, causing consistent pain and discomfort. Every part of her body has become more sensitive, hitting into something by accident feels like getting punched. Around week twenty-six, Stephanie started to get increasingly short of breath. Abel and August are getting so big that they’re constantly pushing Stephanie’s intestines and stomach up, which presses on her diaphragm and lungs. Stephanie can actually no longer sleep on her back because she literally cannot breathe. And, her nighttime sleep, in general, has transformed into three power naps, causing increased tiredness. These are just some of the physical and anatomical changes that cause constant pain for my wife.

But, Stephanie also has emotional pain as well. When she was hospitalized, we sat in the emergency room and had two nurses try and find the babies heartbeats. These labor and delivery nurses could only find one. An ultrasound was then scheduled to check on the health of the boys. We waited for three hours, and those three hours were some of the most painful in our lives. Stephanie, more than I, felt the emotional weight of not knowing if one of our sons was alive. We cried together, read Psalms, prayed, and waited. God was good to us, and both of the boys were healthy. At our week twenty ultrasound, we found out that both the boys were very small even for twins. One was the 11th percentile (for the size of babies in the U.S.A.) and the other the 13th. Stephanie felt for the boys, wanting desperately for them to grow. They did grow for a while, but at week twenty-eight we were told that one baby was growing while the other’s growth had been stunted. Abel was at the 27th percentile while August was only the 9th. Stephanie and I were both devastated and scared. But, Stephanie is the one who literally feels the boys grow and move in her. One of the boys in hidden under her placenta and is harder to feel. This paired with knowing one was smaller caused increased emotional pain and anxiety for Stephanie. We cried together more and prayed desperately for God to grow August. And, grow August He has. All this to say, mothers do not only have physical pain during gestation, but they also experience emotional pain.

Let’s be honest. For almost all women: pregnancy is difficult; it is painful; it is stressful; it is hard work; and, in reality, pregnancy is accursed. But, what a beautiful curse it is, for it is a curse that displays fully the message of divine redemption. Gina Loehr wrote on pregnancies saying, “Women will be saved through childbearing,” St. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy. If bearing a child in one’s body is salvific, it is because the experience leads us into the redemptive mystery of the cross. As Christ offered his body and shed his blood to give us life, so too every mother offers her body and sheds her blood to give life. The new life every mother brings to the world follows the “Passion” of pregnancy and labor. Let’s not pretend the Resurrection should come without the cross.” These words ring true for a husband watching his wife experience the pain and suffering of child-bearing.

Stephanie has been such a beautiful display of Christ to me these past seven and a half months. She is literally giving of herself every single day. She is giving her body, her nutrients, her hormones, her oxygen, her blood, her literal life to our beautiful twin boys. She is giving shelter and food to these helpless human beings. Jesus once taught, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” I do not think it is far off to say that mothers, when they bear and raise children, are doing these same actions to the least of these, the most vulnerable, unborn children. For when a baby in the womb is hungry, the mother feeds it; when it is thirsty, she gives it drink; the baby is a stranger to her body, and she welcomes it; it is naked, and she covers it.

Stephanie has yet to give birth. But, her labor will be the climax of her pregnancy, the darkest night. It is in this darkest night, that we by the grace of God will see the light of our children’s faces! If gestation is represented by the passion of Christ, then labor is the cross. As Rachel Stone writes, “Birth is not passive, pointless, cruel suffering. It is active work—labor…These mothers suffered pain, perhaps even risked death, to bring forth someone new, to bring forth new life…And so when Jesus goes to the cross “for the joy set before him,” as the writer of Hebrews puts it, it’s not masochistic, nor is it passive. He puts forth strength and endurance; like childbirth, it is a commitment to struggle.” Even in Acts Chapter Two, when Peter is preaching on Christ’s death on the cross, the specific Greek word ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), used for the “agony” of Christ’s sufferings, is best translated as “birth pangs.” This paints for us a vivid image of Christ’s salvation of mankind through his death on the cross as a birth. How beautiful it is that our Lord empathizes with women by speaking of his salvation of all mankind as birth! The same way Jesus gave birth to new spiritual life in his death and resurrection, so to Stephanie will give birth to the new life of our twin boys. Birth is the last great sacrifice before the joy of new life and resurrection! As Jesus taught his disciples, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” And, this is the beautiful curse, known as child-bearing: that deep pain brings even deeper joy.

Women experience pain, and then bring new life into the world. And, we need to continually proclaim how beautiful this process is, but also how hard childbearing and birth is. Women experience continuous pain and the greatest pain in the world to give children life. And, all women and mothers deserve constant support, praise, love, and honor for the way they carry their cross. The more we understand and discuss this pain the greater we can support the needs of women. We need a culture that understands the deep pain that child-bearing brings, so we can more fully experience the joy of new life.

I write these words as both a praise to my God who gave birth to resurrection life in the person of Jesus Christ and as a thanks to my wife, Stephanie Augusta Elliott. Your pain, your sacrifice, and constant work to support Abel and August do not go unnoticed. You are a beautiful image of Christ’s sacrificial love every day. I love you, and always will!

As the Ruin Falls: Pain & Beauty; Destruction & Resurrection

Photo Credit: Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

Saturday morning my wife, Stephanie, and I with our friends and family celebrated the new life and coming birth of our twin sons, Abel James and August John Elliott. Gray clouds covered the sky, and a steady rain fell on the ground, a typical spring day in the South Puget Sound. I awoke early to bake four country loafs and slice apples for our charcuterie boards. After packing our car with food and supplies, we drove to pick up our morning coffee and then headed to the baby shower. The morning continued and we helped my wife’s family setup the event room with flowers and other decorations. People trickled in little by little: immediate family, extended family, old friends, new friends, loving pastors, and my beautiful wife, carrying my two twin boys surrounded me. Everyone was smiling and laughing. The happiness was palpable, and the party was the exact opposite of the dreary, depressing weather outside. During the baby shower, happiness overcame me, and, in that moment, my heart was overfilled with contentment and joy, similar to reaching the peak of a mountain or watching the sunset at the beach. It was a moment where one is thankful just to exist, to see and experience beauty, to love, and to be loved. It is in these moments that God’s presence feels so close, that mankind is able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[1]

But, what does man do with the evil that befalls him? What happens when we taste the bitterness of this world rather than the goodness of God? Where is God in these moments? For even in our happiness, mankind cannot escape the cold grasp of death. Even in celebrating the new life of my beautiful twin boys, I am unable evade the business of the grave. Today is the twenty-first anniversary of my father’s death. And, his death makes bitter even the joy of new life.

People say that time heals all wounds, but my father’s death seems to become more painful every year. The more joy I experience in my life, the more pain I feel from his death. The more goodness I experience in my life, such as graduation, marriage, and now children, the more I long for my Father to be alive to experience it with me. It is so painful to have children and to know they will never meet their grandfather. My twin boys, Abel and August, will never get to sit on Grandpa John’s lap; my twin boys will never feel my father’s strong hands hold them ever so gently; my twin boys will never see their grandpa pray by their bedside begging God to guide them in his ways; my twins will never know the love my father had for God, my mom, my siblings, and me. Even more so having children reminds me that I will never experience handing my son to my dad to hold; I will never feel the loving and firm embrace of my dad; I will never experience my dad telling me how proud he is of me as a father, a husband and a man. But, I surmise that the pain I feel is simply a product of the beauty I experienced in being my father’s son. Memories of my father’s laugh, of my father’s love, and my father’s faith are still with me to this day. The pain I feel is simply the absence of my father in my life.

It is strangely poetic that the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire today. The 856-year-old cathedral, captivated millions of admirers and pilgrims who walked through its doors in awe of its beauty. In Notre Dame, we saw a physical embodiment of beauty. And to lose that pains us. The pain of its destruction is so deeply felt exactly because the world knew its beauty and wonder. So, is the death of a human soul! To know and love someone only to see their body deteriorate over time or suddenly collapse, causes humans deep pain. Yet, we are powerless to stop this destruction.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, saw his beautiful creation dying and deteriorating. But, unlike mankind, he was not powerless to stop its destruction. So, he in fellowship with the Holy Trinity descended into humanity and assumed our nature. Christ Jesus was goodness, justice, love, and beauty encapsulated in a human. He was fully God and fully man, and we rejected him. He was the most beautiful thing that this world has ever experienced, and we killed him. ­And, mankind watched his body crumble in weakness. Jesus’ body was broken and soul crushed for humanity, like Notre Dame burning, the human embodiment of beauty was destroyed.

So, why did the triune God allow Jesus’ humanity to taste this bitterness? Why did Jesus experience this immense pain? Why was the beauty of Jesus allowed to be extinguished? Why was man permitted to eradicate the goodness of Jesus? Doesn’t this seem counter-productive to saving mankind?

Death became intertwined into the fabric of humanity after the fall of Adam and Eve. Death in a way represents our destroyed beauty, our fall from grace. Death is like the flame that just consumed Notre Dame, it is a sweltering fire that consumes beauty. And, Jesus, as God, assumed all of humanity, which means he assumed even the experience of pain and death. Jesus willingly allowed himself to experience the ugly reality of pain and death, because He wished to restore mankind’s beauty. He experienced death to bring new life. He experienced sickness to bring a remedy. He experienced sorrow to bring joy. He experienced pain to bring relief. And, that is what the resurrection shows. The true beauty of Jesus Christ is that he did not stay broken, dead in the ground. No, our Savior rose triumphant. Like a phoenix from the ashes, like the sun from the darkness of night, like a bright diamond from the darkness of the ground, our Savior was raised anew. Jesus was the firstborn of the dead, and He is a sign of the great things to come. For, Jesus is going to return and remake this world. Jesus resurrected not for his salvation alone, but for the salvation of the world. Jesus wants to heal the world; he wants to make the world beautiful again.

Many of the great moments in our lives are connected to parties. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and baby showers are often moments of sheer happiness and beauty. In these moments, surrounded by friends and family, we love and feel loved. Our Savior, Christ Jesus, is going to throw a beautiful celebration for the world when he returns. At this party Jesus will restore all of our brokenness. All of our physical ailments will disappear, death will be no more, and all tears of sadness will be wiped away.[2] The brief momentary joy I felt at my sons’ baby shower was just that, momentary. But, that great and beautiful party when Jesus returns shall be eternal. For, when Christ returns all things will be made beautiful and indestructible, and mankind will once again be in perfect fellowship with God, who is beauty itself.

I have now come to terms that the pain of my Father’s death will never be resolved this side of eternity. Our Savior thinks it fitting that we should experience pain to grow our dependence on him. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a poem, “For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.”[3] When our life shatters and we experience deep pain and brokenness, it is those who seek Jesus in humility that will experience true life. For it is in Jesus that all temporal things will find their eternity. And, this is the hope that I will teach my sons: Pain is a reality of human life, but the beauty of Jesus Christ is greater than this pain.

[1] Psalm 34:8.

[2] Revelation 21.

[3] http://www.pford.stjohnsem.edu/ford/cslewis/documents/notes/Wordsworth%20SBJ%20As%20the%20ruin%20.pdf.

 

A Bitterness unto Death

“The heart knows its own bitterness…” – Proverbs 14:10

Social media, and American society itself, increasingly seems to be morphing into a platform and arena of projected bitterness. Our democratic republic is facing a high intensity of polarization. Bickering and violent protests are everywhere. So, the question we must ask is whether the bitterness on display is the direct result of social media and American culture or rather inherent to the nature of man. I am one to believe that bitterness stems from the heart of man. But, bitterness is reactionary in nature. One becomes bitter and angry when he experiences something distasteful. Envy of others, the betrayal of a friend, anger at someone’s beliefs, these experiences and more cause humans to become bitter. Humans resent that which causes them pain. Similar to Newton’s Third Law, experiencing bitterness often has an equal and opposite reaction of bitterness in the soul of the one affected. Experiencing bitterness causes bitterness; one could call this the dualism of bitterness. Therefore, if bitterness is reactionary, it then follows that social media acts as a conduit or conductor for bitterness.

Social media as a platform has infinite potentiality to grow bitterness in individuals. For, an individual involved with social media not only deals with local issues and interpersonal relationship, but also has their world opened to millions of issues and thousands of relationships, albeit shallow ones. The more one focuses their attention on the shallow world of mass media and less on the physical community they are a part of, it is often the result that these individuals naturally become more bitter. Why do you ask? Simply because there is more content to which one can react. With more content, comes the greater chance of encountering something that makes one envious, depressed, and annoyed. These experiences cause one’s heart to become bitter. And, this bitterness often leads to anger and anger to retaliation, sometimes violent. One only need watch the nightly news to see a protest that ended violently. Often the violence that erupts at these protests are fueled by rhetoric on social media. Sadly, we live in a day in age where internet trolls do not remain online in the world of perceived fantasy, but in their bitterness, allow their nature to be corrupted to the point where they physically act like brutish, ugly trolls themselves, illogical and violent.

But, we must remember that bitterness is a plight of the heart of man and not inherent to social media. Therefore, our solution must be focused on the care of the human soul. So then, from a theological and Christian perspective, how does one combat the plight of bitterness? The answer to this question must pierce to the root of the issue, which we have stated as the heart of man. When a man is sick and hot with a fever, it does him no lasting good to merely cool him down with cold ice compression. A good doctor will give an antidote to combat the root cause from which the fever stems. And, this is what our Lord does for us in the Scriptures. Let us look to them for guidance.

One of the major themes of the Sacred Scriptures is this idea of bitterness. One would expect this as bitterness is a common experience to all of humanity. Every created thing experiences some form of bitterness, whether physical suffering, spiritual agony, emotional distress, or the vices of sin because the world is broken. For, bitterness entered in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Though its flesh may have been sweet, it left only bitterness in the mouth of Adam, Eve, and their descendants thereafter. For, after that fateful act, the Triune God cursed man resulting in the multiplication of sin, pain, suffering, and eventually death. Suffering, sin, and pain are bitter by nature, and as we stated earlier they also produces bitterness in the heart of men. Let it be noted here, that experiencing the bitterness of pain and suffering is not itself evil; it is only evil when man allows those external evils to create bitterness toward God or fellow man in his very soul.

From Genesis to Revelation bitterness is painted over the pages of Scripture. Exodus, Leviticus, the Proverbs, Lamentations, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and even many New Testament passages expound on the theme of bitterness. In Exodus, God makes a central part of the Passover diner eating bitter herbs, so the Israelites remember the bitter bondage of slavery in Egypt. Job and the prophet Jeremiah are perhaps the primary example of the scriptural theme of bitterness. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul consistently writes to put away bitterness from the church body, and the apostle John records in Revelation that one of the plagues cast down on earth is bitter waters. Bitterness’ emphasis in the Sacred Scriptures thematically adds great depth to the redemptive salvation of man by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For, mankind does not need saving if there is no bitterness from which to save him. Let us specifically put before us the accounts of Moses and Naomi to better explain this concept.

On Moses and the Israelites:

It is recorded in the book of Exodus, that after the Israelites fled Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, God immediately began to provide for their daily needs. He provided them with mana, quail, and of course, water. For God not only saves, he daily provides the sustenance needed for life. Moses writes in the book of Exodus that, “Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore, it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”[1]

This passage, along with the entirety of the Israelite Exodus, teaches that tasting bitter things often result in inward bitterness. The bitter waters of Marah caused an inward bitterness in the hearts of the Israelites. The Israelites wanted water. That desire was good. But, when they could not have it, they responded with annoyance and bitterness toward Moses and, in essence, God. Experiencing bitterness resulted in inward bitterness and outward grumbling.

So, as the story continues, God guided Moses to throw a wooden log into the water. The wooden log transformed the water from that which was bitter and undrinkable to that which was sweet and refreshing. Thus, supplying water to quench the thirst and needs of the Israelites.

On Naomi and Ruth: 

The book of Ruth examines the life of two women who experience the pain of familial death and societal ostracization. While the book is named for Ruth, Naomi is integral to the redemptive telling of this story, for the book begins and ends with Naomi.

First, the book starts off with Naomi and her family leaving Israel to go to Moab because of a famine. In Moab Naomi and her husband have success and happiness, culminating with their two sons marry local women, Ruth being one of them. Tragedy strikes. Naomi’s husband and two sons die, leaving her with no possessions and no purpose, living in a strange land.

The story then continues that Naomi to find some consolation leaves for her home, Bethlehem, Israel. Naomi urges her daughter’s by law to leave and start their own lives with other men. It is then when Ruth famously tells Naomi, “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”[2]

After Naomi returns to Bethlehem, her old friends are talking to her and very simply call her by her name. Naomi, who is so bitter in her heart, responds, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Marah, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.”[3] Naomi’s name in Hebrew means “pleasant.” So, this illustration becomes even deeper, for as Naomi ate of the bitterness of this fallen world, she responds by becoming bitter herself even naming herself Marah.[4] That which was pleasant became bitter. Experiencing pain caused inward and outward bitterness in Naomi, so much so, that she formed her identity around bitterness.

The story continues that Ruth through her love and faithfulness to Naomi, brings redemption to her family by marrying Boaz and bearing Naomi a figurative grandson. As stated earlier, the book of Ruth starts with Naomi and ends with Naomi. Chapter four states, “Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer…He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”[5] God turns Naomi’s bitterness into joy with new life.

Moses and Naomi Explained:

Similarities between these two stories emerge as one puts their mind to study. Each story has an object or subject that is first pleasant. The Water of Marah and Naomi were once pleasant; they were not always bitter. But, outside circumstances entered and caused bitterness to overcome each, making them bitter to those who interacted with them. The Israelites wouldn’t drink the water, and Naomi was bitter toward God, her friends, and countrymen. Yet, both were not left to remain bitter. God in his infinite wisdom sent remedies to them both. The waters of Marah were healed with a tree, and Naomi was healed through her loving daughter-in-law, Ruth. Both the waters and Naomi became pleasant once again bringing refreshment and joy to those they interacted with. The waters quenched the thirst of the Israelites, and Naomi once again was pleasant toward her countrymen. Is this not a foreshadowing of our Savior, Jesus Christ?

It is clear to see that the waters of Marah and Naomi, who named herself Marah, represent fallen humanity. Humanity has become bitter toward God because of the suffering caused by sin, death, and the devil; suffering and bitterness which was self-inflicted in our case. Mankind in his selfishness became bitter toward God, unpleasant, and useless. Not only is mankind bitter toward God, we also are bitter toward our fellow man becoming envious, angry, and full of resentment. It is also clear that the tree Moses cast into the water and the godly Moabite, Ruth, are symbols of Jesus Christ. For, that which is unpleasant needs a mediator to make it pleasant once again. No man, woman, or created object has the inherent qualities or abilities to make that which is bitter sweet again, for in the fall all things became bitter. As Proverbs poetically puts it, “The heart knows its own bitterness.”[6] Every man, woman, and child has bitterness in their heart, and bitterness cannot cure bitterness. Mankind needed a mediator of divine sweetness, a mediator of God himself.

Jesus Christ, through his life, crucifixion, and resurrection, is our Ruth. Jesus, upon that beautiful tree of Calvary, dispenses of the bitterness of humanity like the tree that cured the waters of Marah. St. Gregory of Nyssa states, “But if the wood be thrown into the water, that is, if one receives the mystery of the resurrection which had its beginning with the wood (you of course understand the “cross” when you hear “wood”), then the virtuous life, being sweetened by the hope of things to come, becomes sweeter and more pleasant…” Our Lord saves us not only from physical affliction with the hope and promise of the resurrection, but he also heals our souls of all bitterness and hate which we harbor in our fallen nature. Oh, how beautiful is our Lord, Jesus! He allowed himself to be cut down, that he might make mankind pleasant and fruitful once again. For the death and resurrection of Jesus lead to the redemption and resurrection of mankind.

Jesus not only redeems us supernaturally from the bitterness of sin, death, and the devil, he also gives us a practical example to overcome bitterness in our own souls. Christ Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit in order that we may exemplify Him more perfectly in our sanctification. Our Savior was beaten, whipped, and crucified; his own countrymen, whom he healed of physical and spiritual sickness, were the ones who killed him. Not only did his countrymen kill him, his friends abandoned him. Lastly, our Savior, in his humanity, had the Triune God turn his face away from him. And, as David before him, Jesus Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Why are you so far from saving me…)”[7] But in this pain, in this bitterness, Jesus responded with only grace and humility. Toward his country men, who killed him, he stated “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[8] Toward his friends, who abandon him, he stated, ““Peace to you!”[9] To the God the Father, whom he felt had abandoned him, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”[10] Jesus responded to bitterness with love and joy. Instead of letting bitterness poison his own soul, our Savior conquered bitterness with love, valuing the other greater than himself. May we learn from his example.

Thus, let us seek to emulate Christ in our own lives. When your enemies taunt, troll, despise, and spit on you ask for their redemption. When your friends use you for personal gain and then abandon you, grant them forgiveness and peace. And, when you feel your God has abandoned you, commit your spirit into his hands; knowing that he loves and cares for you even when He feels distant. Experiencing bitterness need not result in becoming bitter. When, the church and its members responds to bitterness, anger, resentment, and suffering with grace, love, peace, and joy, they act like waters of Marah. They are like sweet fruit produced by the work of Holy Spirit. For, being healed by Christ is not merely for personal betterment, but for the improvement of the world. Christ as our Mediator makes us sweet, humble, and full of joy. The world, like the Israelites, is thirsty for sweet and refreshing water. May the church seek Christ in order that we may become sweet to our fellow man. Showing them the way of love and peace. Showing them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Showing them the way to the Triune God. Amen.


[1] Exodus 15:23-24. ESV.

[2] Ruth 1:16-17.

[3] Ruth 1:20.

[4] It is interesting to note, that this is the very same Hebrew word the people of Israel gave to the place that had bitter water. So, bitterness is often so deep and painful that we define ourselves as bitter. One could even say mankind identifies as the essence of bitterness itself. Bitterness makes us bitter in our being.

[5] Ruth 4:14-15.

[6] Proverbs 14:10.

[7] Psalm 22:1.

[8] Luke 23:34.

[9] Luke 24:36.

[10] Luke 23:46.

Folding the Laundry: A Meditation on my Wife’s Birthday

Today is my beautiful wife’s, Stephanie Augusta Elliott’s, birthday. The more I think about her and all of her amazing qualities and virtues, I realize that I value her birthday infinitely more than mine. For, birthdays are a celebration of an individual’s life, and I would much rather celebrate my wife’s life than my own. For, God (and my family & friends for that matter) knows who I would be without her.

Stephanie is such an amazing wife, as she loves me despite my insecurities and downfalls, my lack of empathy, my occasional lapses in judgement, and even my hatred of folding laundry. She does not simply “suffer” through my problems, she calls them out and urges me to live in the grace of God. I manage my money better with her; I am more disciplined with her; I even wax the car now because of her. She has challenged me to “grow up” in so many ways. But, alas, folding the laundry still evades me, in all honesty, I don’t want to grow up in that area.

Continuing on, Stephanie is such a diligent worker. This year alone she finished her accelerated post-baccalaureate nursing program and graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, passed her NCLEX, and accepted a nursing job. She even did side cleaning jobs to make extra money to pay for our move across the country. Stephanie empathizes so effortlessly and is extremely caring. Steph and I were youth group leaders at our church this past year, and she constantly talked with her small group girls whenever and wherever she saw them. She had them over for spa nights, movie nights, cookie party nights. Stephanie legitimately invests in those with whom she is connected. Seeing her be this person, challenges me to equally be as diligent and empathetic. And, while Steph has her faults, as all humans do, no human has intimately shown me God’s grace more than her.

St. Clement of Alexandria once stated, “For with perfect propriety Scripture has said that woman is given by God as “an help” to man. It is evident, then, in my opinion, that she will charge herself with remedying, by good sense and persuasion, each of the annoyances that originate with her husband in domestic economy.” Perhaps it is just the editing and translating of Philip Schaff and Alexander Roberts, but I love that St. Clement uses the term annoyances. In marriage, men are given wives to refine our rough edges or as St. Clement puts it “annoyances.” Woman make men who they are. Women are the sanctifying tool of God for the life of mankind. Not only do they physically and literally give life to all of mankind, women metaphorically give life to mankind as they educate, develop, and refine mankind through marriage and motherhood. This is the true beauty of marriage as an institution; this is the beauty in which the triune God created man in his image, as specifically man & woman. Man is not truly man without woman.

All this to say, I am not fully who I am without you, Stephanie Augusta. Your Christ-centered love and righteous jealousy do not merely make me a better human, but rather they are the very dispensation of the triune God’s grace for my sanctification. I look forward to the many years ahead, to the children we will raise in God’s grace, and to the hope that one day I will enjoy folding the laundry.


“The marriage, then, that is consummated according to the word, is sanctified, if the union be under subjection to God, and be conducted “with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and the body washed with pure water, and holding the confession of hope; for He is faithful that promised.” And the happiness of marriage ought never to be estimated either by wealth or beauty, but by virtue.

St. Clement of Alexandria – Chapter XX: A Good Wife

Medicine for an Anxious Heart: a Christian Meditation on Death and Fear

Court-of-death

 

Peter Lawler stated in a recent article, “Philosophy is learning how to die, to get over obsessing about your personal significance. Being (existence) itself is not in our hands.” Lawler aligns himself with great thinkers such as Plato, Cicero, and Montaigne in believing that Philosophy has the purpose of preparing oneself to die. Shakespeare even incorporates this thinking into his many plays. But, I am convinced that philosophy can only do so much to sooth man’s soul, and I would like to assert that one should replace Philosophy with Christianity. And, I am fully convinced of this: Christianity is learning how to die.


This past year has been quite a year. I graduated from college debt free. My brother was married. I became an uncle. I was offered a job that I wasn’t qualified for. And most importantly, this year, I married my beautiful wife, Stephanie. God has been gracious and kind to me.


But, although this year has been filled with joy and happiness, I found myself deeply saddened. April 15th, 2016 marked the 18th year anniversary of my father, John Francis Elliott’s, death. It can easily be deduced that my father was not at my graduation, at my niece’s birth, at my brother’s wedding, or at my wedding. His death still has a real affect on my life, even though it was 18 years ago. So much so that in April of last year, I had an anxiety attack that landed me in the emergency room of Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. Having too much caffeine from coffee and to much stress from school, work, and wedding planning resulted in the anxiety attack, but I am convinced the root cause was my deeply rooted fear of death. Let me explain.


Because of my father’s early death, I have always feared a premature death, myself. My dad died of a heart attack when he was forty-one, and I was so scared that my anxiety attack was a heart attack that I literally tricked my body into thinking it was going to die. The doctor told me that I had experienced a hypochondriac reaction. I had convinced myself I was dying, and my response consisted of being frantic, afraid, and scared.


But, this brings me back to my original point. Christianity is learning how to die, at least a large part of it. Death is the great equalizer of humanity. Every one experiences death. Naked we enter this world, and naked we leave. From dust we are formed, and to dust we return. No matter who you are, you will die. Death is scary, and the fear of death has many tangible reactions. Anxiety, denial, and ignorance are just a few.


I am afraid of death. I am afraid of being separated from my family. I am afraid of the pain I might face in my final hours. I am afraid of not being there for my children. And, every year I remember my dad’s death, and what he has missed, it incarnates that fear even more into my life. Fear is not something that mankind merely experiences, it is a part of our nature. Although a concept, fear incarnates itself into our reality in a concrete way. How does mankind conquer fear and its many consequences? The Apostle John with such sublime and simple words tells us that, “Perfect love casts out fear.”


But, how does love cast out fear? Often the answer to this question places the action on man to love and not act out of fear. Preachers often tell us, “You, human, in your own capacity, do not fear. You, human, in your own capacity, love other.” But this is the wrong way of understanding this concept. Fear has incarnated itself as a part of our human nature. The only thing that can overcome the human incarnation of fear is a divine incarnation of love.


The question one should ask is not “how do I with love cast out fear?” but rather, “how does perfect love, the Triune God, cast out fear?” The Father gives us His Son, Jesus Christ, through His Spirit. And, the presence of Jesus Christ in our souls casts out human fear. Christ casts fear out, because He is perfect love. And, as Christ casts out demons who controlled the men and women they indwelled, so Christ cast out fear from his church’s body. The God who calmed the raging waters of the Galilee Sea, can assuredly calm the fear in his children’s heart.


Therefore, the answer to fear is Christ himself. Christ went through death for humanity. God experienced death. As Peter Leithart eloquently explains in his article Lord over Death, “He (Jesus) is not only Lord over the safe confines of heaven…Not only Lord over galaxies, but Lord in the world of hunger and thirst. Not only the Lord over nations, but the Lord in suffering, injustice, and pain. Not only the Lord over life, but also the Lord and tamer in death.” Christ did this as our brother, a partaker in humanity. Adam sinned and brought death, destruction, and fear upon all mankind. But, through Christ, the God-man, mankind has life, redemption, and love. As Leithart states in another article, “The Lord of life becomes Lord of death. God’s throne is a tomb… Any old god could put up a throne in a temple. The true God must reign also in the midst of hell, among the ruins, or he doesn’t reign at all. He is no living God if he isn’t the living One among the dead.” Our God not only became man, He experienced the dirty, messy, humiliating act of death.


Modern society views death as man’s weakest point, that great adversary of mankind. Death is the point of human existence in which human will and ability can do nothing to stop the impending destruction of life. Death is in its nature a humiliating moment. Perhaps this is why euthanasia is becoming so appealing to many; human will can exercise its power one last time. Human will desires to be lord of its own peaceful death. But, that subject can be tackled at a later time.


In Christian thought, death receives a new nature and purpose. Death is man’s act of victory; man’s final experience of pain and sorrow, becomes its moment of victory. Death is still humbling in Christianity’s understanding, but it is humbling because we submit ourselves to God in humility with faith that he will raise us up incorruptible. Christian’s go to the grave not fearing death, for in death’s humiliation we are exalted to the heavens into the throne room of God. God made his throne the grave, so that man’s grave could become his throne. This is why a large portion of Christianity is learning how to die. For, Christianity teaches that in death we have life if we place our faith in the power of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We literally preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in our very death. Man is sinful and weak and deserving of the punishment of death, but through faith in Jesus Christ man is restored to a divine life that is incorruptible. This is the message of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.


So, when fear attempts to reincarnate itself into the hearts and minds of men, man is to think of Christ. Think on that perfect love, who incarnated himself on this earth and in your heart. Think on Christ, who descended into the grave and rose victorious. And, pray. Pray for Christ to give you His Spirit. For through His Spirit, we receive the power, presence, and love of Christ, the Eternal Son. Our God, came to this earth as one of us, and conquered not as a powerful King, but as a dying servant. And, through this we have peace. Our anxieties and fears can be calmed, for God has accomplished the work of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. And, with this peace, man can truly live. Understanding the true nature of death leads to true life. Anxiety, stress, and despair slowly fade.


My fear of death still exists, and my heart is still anxious. Every year when I remember my father’s premature death, my heart will become heavy with fear and anxiety. But when my heart is heavy, I think of the word’s of Christ, “Come to me all who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Christ speaks to my heart through his Word, through His Church, through His Communion, and through Prayer. He tells me to have no fear, for he has conquered the grave. And, slowly, very slowly, I am learning how to die.


Title Painting: The Court of Death by Rembrandt Peale. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2012645626/

Love Examined. part II/II : Love and the Nature of Marriage.

“Those who are enjoying something, or suffering something, together, are companions. Those who enjoy or suffer one another, are not.” – That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis in the third and last book of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength, has a unique emphasis on the sacrament or practice of Marriage. He, to show the importance of the theme of marriage in the book, starts the book with the words of the Anglican Book of Common Worship. It states, “Matrimony was ordained, thirdly, for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have for the other.” (1) This then creates a theme for Lewis to use in the relation of his two main characters, the newly married Mark and Jane Studdock. The overall theme of That Hideous Strength is that a proper education, use of language, and knowledge of divine institutions will provide for a society rooted in objective truth; paired with Lewis’ Abolition of Man, it aims to show the need for objective truth in a society. Although many readers overlook this theme of marriage in the book, I believe that Lewis describes what he believes to be the objective truth of marital love.


Lewis thoughts on Marriage can be summarized in the first conversation of Dr. Ransom and Jane, the wife. Jane, who is one of the keys to the coming battle of Good and Evil, is about to meet Dr. Ransom, the leader of the forces of Good. Many would think that the good Doctor would talk to her of strategy, but rather he talks with Jane almost entirely about her marriage to Mark. This conversation, I believe, symbolizes one of Lewis’ main themes in That Hideous Strength and also in many of his other works; it is this: that the key to bringing good to any society is to correctly understand and display the institutions of God in a habitual manner. This would include the correct understanding of the church, the family unit, friendship, work, recreation, and the topic of this essay, marriage.


This leads me to my first point. Understanding correct marital love is essential for the benefit of one’s specific community. A marriage, that is correctly understood and enacted in a community, acts as a light to those trying to understand how it should correctly work. Marriage, then, can be compared to a complete picture of a puzzle. Those wishing to understand marriage and complete its puzzle, can thus look to the correct understanding found in a Christian marriage to know the way to complete it. Although, I am afraid this illustration falls apart, because marriage is a puzzle that can never be fully solved until our sin nature is eradicated. I am not trying to say that a couple can have a “complete/perfect” marriage, but rather that they can have the mechanisms to actualize a fulfilling marriage.


This action again reminds us of nature of love. Love displays God. Part one of this series described the necessity of Christian love toward one another as the way in which God displays Himself to the world. This love for one another does not only manifest yourself in the church, but rather it starts with your everyday life and particularly, your spouse, if married. The world can and will see how you treat your loved ones. Marital love then also displays God’s love to the world around you, and as part one described, this comes back to the imitation of Christ which is found in living a life of humble sacrifice. This is the great paradox of losing your life in order to find it, to die in order to live.


Pope John Paul II described the public picture of marriage as this. “Christian spouses and parents can and should offer their unique and irreplaceable contribution to the elaboration of an authentic evangelical discernment in the various situations and cultures in which men and women live their marriage and their family life. They are qualified for this role by their charism or specific gift, the gift of the sacrament of matrimony.” (2) Marriage is evangelistic in the sense that you act differently/truthfully in the same cultural situations that all other families find themselves in. But what characterizes a correct Marital relationship?


Let us return to the conversation between Dr. Ransom and Jane. Jane, who is angered at her husband will defend one major point, which, ironically, our modern culture loves to triumph as well; this point is the necessity of equality for a flourishing relationship. Jane defends her belief by pointing to Mark’s inadequacies, his faults. She says to Dr. Ransom, “I don’t think I look on marriage quite as you do,” (3) and that is exactly what the problem is with Jane’s view. She views equality as what she individually thinks it is, and her problem is with with the way Mark individually views things. If marriage is done with complete equality, nothing could ever be done. It would be a crippling stand still, a stalemate in which no one could make any progress. Logically speaking a 50/50 relationship could never work. Perhaps you will say, “well, this is where sacrifice comes in,” but to that I would say: if both parties sacrifice for the benefit of the other then you have the same stalemate thus switched. The wife, sacrificing for the husband, takes his position and the husband, sacrificing for his wife, takes her position. Thus a decision remains unreached, but it is now unreached for the sake of sacrifice.


So what is the answer to equality? Simply, it is obedience. Dr. Ransom during the continuing conversation with Jane humbly presents his belief on what marriage should be. Lewis, through Ransom, shows the unique relationship of marriage: that a wife respectfully submits to her husband and the husband unconditionally loves and sacrifices for the wife. Perhaps Lewis was reminded of the story of Hosea and Gomer. The entirety of Hosea is of the husband unconditionally loving his disobedient bride who repeatedly cheats on her husband. He easily could have said, “I have an equal right to sleep around,” or “I have an equal right to divorce you,” but rather Hosea submit to an unconditional love in the hope of restoring Gomer, his adulterous wife. The same way, when a wife respectfully follows an adulterous/evil husband, not in the evil acts, she does so in the hopes of restoring his unconditional love to her. This is the position that Jane, who is a follower of the Good, will eventually take with her husband, Mark, who is currently following the Evil. Jane does not submit to the point where she violates her conscience and the Good, but in every situation that does not violate goodness and God she follows Mark.


Jane, though, in order to get to this point has to listen to the instruction of Dr. Ransom. Ransom in his talk with Jane constantly reminds her that if she wants to make progress with her husband, screaming for equality will never work, rather, humbly serving him as far as she can, will work. Ransom lovingly tells Jane, “You do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but you have lost love because you have never attempted obedience.” (4) Jane then proclaims, “I thought love meant equality and free companionship” (5) to which Ransom returns, “Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed, because we are fallen….equality guards life; (but) it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food.” (6) This goes with part one of this series “On Love and the Nature of God.” This is the same problem we faced in the first article. Instead of love being active, it has become passive. Love is now reactionary. This is what Lewis is arguing against. Marital love should not be one reacting to a plea for equal rights, it should be an active giving of oneself to the betterment of the other. Ransom, to enforce this, then states, “Those who are enjoying something, or suffering something together, are companions. Those who only enjoy or suffer one another, are not.” (7Lewis wants his reader to see that this modern “love” of equality or tolerance is not equality at all; it is the opposite. It cause a wife/husband dichotomy instead of wife/husband unity. According to Lewis, “obedience – humility – is an erotic (marital) necessity.” (8) Jane had been, “putting equality just where it ought not to be.” (9)


Again love is not equality. Love is comfort, but not in the modern sense. Love comes alongside someone to strengthen them. This is what is meant by comfort. You “fort”-ify the one you love. This means telling them when they are wrong. To do anything less is to actually dislike, even hate, the person. For, if you know the truth and do not try and persuade the people you love of the truth, you in fact prove that your love for them is shallow and passive, but this loving persuasion must be paired with humility. This is what Jane embodies. She is the wife who, when she finds “the Good,” both acts humbly and begs her husband to reconsider what he is doing because he is countering what is true. It is with this pairing of truth and humility that Mark returns to his wife. The book begins with Jane doubting the concept of marriage and fidelity, and it ends with Jane and Mark being reunited in a deeper understanding of love.


This is then the epitome of marital love: imitation of Christ. It is the combination of humility and truth. Lewis does not mention this in That Hideous Strength, but it is seen in his other writings, and it is seen in the writings of all the great doctors and teachers of the Church. As part one of this examination of love stated, we know what true love is, because God displayed His love in the God-man, Jesus Christ. It is by this we can see, experience, and partake in love. So what does marital love look like from our knowledge of Christ?


1. Marital love is sacrificial: The same way Christ sacrificed himself for the church so should the husband and wife sacrifice for each other each day. If it comes to it, the man should love his wife so much to physically die for her.

2. Marital Love is forgiving: The same way Christ forgave sinners of their trespasses, so the husband and wife should forgive each other of their sins. I would even argue that Christ allowing for a divorce in sexual sin situations, is not Him desiring it. It is the exception to the rule of fidelity but not the rule. Again, Christ’s forgiveness is unconditional, and so should ours. This can be seen in the account of Hosea and Gomer.

3. Marital Love should be gracious: There will be times in the journey of marriage where each spouse will grow at a faster rate, and there will be times where each spouse fails. It is important for each spouse to extend grace when grace is due. Use failure as a means of growth. Christ did so with his disciples, do so with your spouse.

4. Marital Love does not retaliate: sometimes a spouse will become frustrated and will wrongly be angered. It is important to remember that Christ did not retaliate when he was wrongly accused but acted humbly. In doing this you will show them their error. If you retaliate, Christ is not imitated and love is not displayed.

5. Marital love is faithful: when the disciples deserted Christ, Christ did not desert them. He died for them. There will be times when your spouse figuratively deserts you, and it is your job to remember that Christ is unconditionally faithful.

6. Marital love bears burdens: Christ carried the burden of the cross and the weight of world’s sin. It is therefore your job as Galatians 6 states to carry the burden of your spouse in love. If they are struggling with a burden, it becomes your burden as well. Remember, you are co-journeyers that are united as one.

Last and not least. One that is very often overlooked.

7. Marital love is manifested in bearing children: The same way Christ is the Son of God, so we imitate God in the fact that we produce children as well. Adam was created in the image of God, and Adam then had a son in his image. This is the image of sonship. For, If Christ is the exact image of God, why is this so? Because, Christ is his Son of God, eternally begotten. Humans then imitate God’s “nature” in the birth of children. Children then are an act of sanctification for parents. Marriage involves having children.


As a wife obeys, and a husband loves unconditionally, they mutually seek to obey God and His commandment to love one another. Remember Dr. Ransom’s warning? Love is not about suffering and enjoying one another, but suffering and enjoying things together. Marital love is focused on how to approach situations, ideas, and people together as one, not about how to approach each other in various situations. You are co-journeyers, living life together, helping each other. Marriage is the beginning of a journey; it is not a destination, and this journey will challenge you. You will be forced to work together to endure hardships. You will help each other in the “so-called” mundane tasks of raising children, making a budget, shopping, and cooking, and you will realize that these “so-called” mundane acts are some of the greatest growing points. When your spouse falters, and you come alongside to strengthen them, you will see the beauty of the cross. The one who falls will see grace, and the one who carries the burden will see a changed life. And, as the two, united as one, do these mundane, public acts for all to see they, if imitating Christ, will display the love of God to their community.


1. Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. London: Voyager, 2003. Print. pg 11.

2. Hogan, Richard M., and John Paul. Covenant of Love: Pope John Paul II on Sexuality, Marriage, and Family in the Modern               World. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985. Print.

3. Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. London: Voyager, 2003. Print. pg. 144.

4. Ibid. pg. 144.

5. Ibid. pg 145.

6. Ibid. pg. 145.

7. Ibid. pg. 145.

8. Ibid. pg 146.

9. Ibid. pg. 146.

Love Examined. part I/II : Love and the Triune Nature of God.

Love. What is it? So many people claim to have it, but how many truly do? People have said love to be indescribable, some have said that love is pure commitment, and others pure emotion and elation. Love can be rationalized; love can be romanticized. But what is love? Love has been described as many things, but it can only be one. In our modern subjective world, many thinkers have created definitions for the word “love” and many of them, when challenged, then lean on the crutch of relativism to defend their position. Love, then, from this confusion has come to be known as acceptance and tolerance.


In relationships, women “dump” men who do not accept them for who they are. On social networking websites, disagreements run rampant because others cannot accept certain beliefs. These people become known as “haters” because they do not follow the law of love, acceptance. In families, sons and daughters carry disdain for their parents, because their parents do not understand their so called “needs” and refuse to accept their petty demands. No matter what arena of life you enter, love, from its myriad of definitions, has lost its true meaning and has been reduced to tolerance.


So what is the true meaning of love? Can we know what love truly is?

The Apostle John states, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (1) Humanity, by the eternal Logos, Jesus Christ, is given the superlative of love, to sacrifice one’s life for his friends. But how can this be? The greatest command from God was to love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and then my neighbour as myself. How can Jesus have these two ideas of the greatest “love” cooperate?


Christ, when speaking to the disciples in John 15, brilliantly displays the eternal truth of love. True love and the greatest good even in John 15 is this: the imitation of Christ through humility which results in partaking of the divine nature of God. Let me explain. In the following verses of John 15 the Apostle John writes of Jesus saying to his disciples, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you….I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (2) Christ describes that love consists of doing what He commanded; it consists of imitating Him. A true friend of Jesus, whom He as a man “laid down His life for,” will follow Him and will have a life that resembles His.


And why does Jesus wish this? Because Jesus, Himself, has been displaying the Father to them. Jesus is telling His disciples that imitating Him, a distinct person of the Trinity, is imitating the one essence of God. Later in Jesus’ dialogue He states, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (3) Love is in its essence Trinitarian. Let me explain.


The Trinity works in a way that displays all three persons of the Godhead. Christ magnifies the Father, the Father exalts the Son, the Father and Son emit the Holy Spirit, and then the Holy Spirit magnifies Christ. It is in this act of aseity or oneness that God magnifies himself to the world. So then when Christ says, “when the Comforter (Holy Spirit) is come…he shall testify of me” He is revealing that true love in His disciples will result in humble imitation (sacrifice) and partaking in the divine nature of God. For, when we accept the saving grace of Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit as a down payment. The Holy Spirit then magnifies Christ to our mind, renewing us, causing us to live sacrificially, and in imitating Christ, through the Spirit, we then imitate the Father.


Again, the Apostle John speaks of this act in the epistle of 1 John. He states:

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….No man hath seen God at any time….Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (4)


Again, love is of God, for God is love. And God is Trinitarian, so then his love manifests itself in a Trinitarian way. God is the highest good, the fullness of what love truly is. Thus our love must also follow what Christ, the fullness of God and man, did. He sacrificed. He lowered Himself to live a life of service on this earth in the form of his very own creation; then He lowered Himself to death even the death of the cross. And this God, who is the best and highest good, is thus worthy of our love. And loving Christ will result in imitating Him, and imitating Him results in obeying His commands, and obeying his commands results in a rightly ordered life.


And why does Christ command this? Why is this important? Because the same way the Spirit displays Christ, who displays the love of God to us, so we as the Church display the love of God to the world. Hence this theology of love is also practical. He writes in John 13, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (5) The Church then, as it loves one another in its imitation of Christ, displays the love of God. If the Church clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, and gives drink to the thirsty, it shows the world the love of Christ.


But, love must be a full display of Christ to the world. The same way Christ stood for morality, so also should Christians. In the same way, Christ rebuked the hypocrites so should the Church. The same way Christ was righteously angry so also should Christians. But, can these acts, alone, fully display the love of Christ?


No, for all of these acts, whether feeding the poor, rebuking hypocrites, or correcting immorality, are of an external nature. This means that these acts carry the possibility to be done for the wrong reasons. For, if a man can die for the faith without love and give all he has to the poor without love, then this love must be something deeper.


The love of God is much deeper than this. The love of God is a change of motives. Previously, in chapter 13, Christ washed His disciples feet, and in doing this He showed them that humility is the key to loving one another. For, after washing their feet, He told them to do likewise to each other. Christ was demanding a heart change from his disciples, and it was in this heart change that the world would see Christ. The love of God is philosophically a motive that manifests itself in an action; it is not just an action, and it is not just a motive. Thus love is fully recognized in a humble act that has a sacrificial motive.


Sacrifice, exalt others, and in doing this you will display Christ. Love changes one’s motive from serve self to serve Christ, which will manifest itself in serving others. Yes, actions are necessary in displaying the love of God, but this love is something deeper. It’s a changed heart. It’s the ability to balance your emotions, thoughts, and motives in order to address every situation in a correct manner. Love changes the thoughts of man from “what can I get?” to “what can I give?” It changes the emotions of man from “what can satisfy me?” to “how can I satisfy others?” And, it changes the motives of man from “how do I preserve myself?” to “how can I sacrifice myself to help others?” This is Love, to sacrifice one’s life for his brother and in doing so imitate the Triune God.


Love is not tolerance, love is humble sacrifice. Love does not react in passivity, love acts with humility. In doing this we imitate the very nature of God. Let us all pray with Saint Augustine:

“O Love ever burning, never quenched! O Charity, my God, set me on fire with your love! You command me to be continent. Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will!” (6)


1.The Holy Bible: King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995. Print. John 15:13.
2. John 15:14-15.
3. John 15:26.
4. 1 John 4:11-15
5. John 13:34-35
6. St. Augustine. The Confessions. New York: Collier, 1961. Print.