Unrequited love is a awful thing – and can have the most terrible of consequences. I have knelt before the lifeless body of a young man I knew who had taken his own life because of unrequited love – and have known others who have done the same. I have watched a friend waste away physically due to unrequited love and be saved only as a result of the love, comfort and encouragement of others.
The young woman in Solomons Song was right when she said –
‘For love is as strong as death,
it’s jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire,
the brightest kind of flame.’
Song of Solomon 8:6
And even when people think they have found love – sadly, for some, it is an illusion. I know older people who have confided that the greatest regret and pain within their marriage was that their life partner never expressed true love or affection. How sad – and how little do such relationships reflect true Love.
Of course, as well as having the power to destroy, to cause misery, pain, illness and even death – unrequited love can also change the course of a life and be the cause of lifelong sorrow and regret. ‘The deepest suffering of the human spirit is rejected love’ – so said the late Dr. Ken Bailey.
If the above is true, and I believe it to be so, this surly raises the question – what then is the greatest of sins?
We so often see what we call ‘sin’ as an action of some kind which offends God or other people. The truth is, I believe, that the greatest sin is not an action but an attitude – and that is our failure to love. Primarily, it is a failure to return to God the love which he has expressed and shown for us and, secondly, it is the failure to love others as we ourselves are loved. Jesus himself makes this quite clear – for, in answer to the question regarding what was the most important aspect within the law of Moses, a young Jewish scholar replied and Jesus confirmed –
“It states, ‘You must love the Lord God with all your heart, all your passion, all your energy, and you’re every thought. And you must love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus said, “That is correct …’ ”
Luke 10: 27
If you accept the truth of all we have said so far – then we are forced to ask another, deeper, question – and it is this – ‘What is the greatest suffering man can inflict upon God? The answer is clear – not to reciprocate his love for us.
Again – if this is true – what, we might ask, was the deepest suffering of Jesus during his life and, in particular, on that most cruel and painful of deaths on a Roman cross?
I have come to believe that the deepest pain of the cross was not the physical suffering but the agony of rejected love. Christians believe that, in some mysterious way, God, in the person of Jesus – took upon himself the sins of the world – and by implication the greatest of these sins is the rejection of God’s love for us.
This truth lies deep within the DNA of many of Jesus parables. It also gives us to see that the greatest ‘lostness’ is to be lost to Love. It is not to be lost to a religion or religious system – but to be lost to the One who is himself Love.
The parable/stories of Jesus also define what it means to be ‘found’, ‘saved’ or, in the cultural language of my religious background, ‘converted’. Furthermore they also redefined what it truly means to ‘repent’.
My religious tradition was big on repentance. In its understanding, repentance was the first step on the road of faith. And, of course, its view of repentance was that of sorrow and regret over a life of ‘sin’ – and the determination to turn away from it. Never, to my knowledge, in my earlier years, did I ever hear that ‘repentance’ was primarily a falling into the arms of love, grace and forgiveness.
I believe our view of repentance and salvation/conversion all need to be aligned with what it truly means to be ‘rebellious’, ‘lost’ or ‘unconverted’ in Jesus estimation of these things. And in his stories and teaching they appear to me to have everything to do with a rejection of, a lostness to, and a rebellion against Love!
Think again of the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’ (to me the greatest parable/story in the Bible). The younger son rejects and rebels against his father’s love and, as a result of that rejection, is thereby lost to the father. In the face of starvation in his adopted homeland, far from his father’s house, he decides the lessor of the two evils is to return home. But his subsequent well thought out plan and speech, aimed at his own redemption, all evaporate in the embrace and kisses of his father – and it is in the moment of embrace that he is found, restored and converted! Repentance – true repentance starts then at the point of allowing oneself to be found by a gracious, loving, merciful, love starved father!
The truth is this son had not broken any law (as far as we know) – he broke only relationship, his relationship with the father! So the picture of repentance here is not one of reparations for laws broken – but the restoration of broken relationship. This is not to say that reparation is excluded as a result of repentance – but it will be as a result of it – not its primary motivation.
So our God, as he is depicted in this most wonderful of stories, is a God who lives in the pain and distress of rejection – our rejection. He is a God who every day travels to the broken road of our existence looking for returning sons and daughters. And when after months, years, decades, he sees coming towards him the broken, dejected, starving, emaciated, filthy form of one he once cradled on his knee – he abandons all propriety and runs to embrace us in our brokenness. And, as soon becomes clear, he want us to live with him in love and in love alone – not for anything we can do for him.
I really do wonder how many who call themselvs ‘Christian’ have fallen into the arms of this Love? So often like the young man in this story (which I encourage you to read and meditate on again and again) we think we can work our way in to the favour of the Father – but are blind to the fact that he is not interested in our work but only that we reciprocate his love!
The question is then – will we live as those who have been found by and embraced in Love – or will his love for us remain unrequited?
To be continued ..