Divine Love: the Giving and Forgiving God

Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Lent. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London


A couple are sitting in their living room, sipping wine. Suddenly, the wife says, “I love you!” “Is that you or the wine talking?” asks the husband. “It’s me,” says the wife, “talking to the wine.”

The readings this 4th Sunday of Lent touch on the most important theme in the Bible – the divine love; that God is love.

We can think of three types of love:

  • romantic love such as that between a man and woman that leads to marriage;
  • fellowship love such as the love for football which brings people together as club fans, and
  • sacrificial love such as the love that makes a mother risk her own life in child-birth.

In romantic love we receive, in fellowship love we give and take, in sacrificial love we give. God’s love for us is sacrificial. While we get and forget, God gives and forgives.

With sacrificial love, we live the life of heaven; without it we live the life of hell.

A saint once asked God to show her the difference between heaven and hell. God sent an angel to take her round.

First, they got to hell. There she saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But they were all sad and yawning as none of them was eating. The saint asked why they were not eating. They told her that a very long fork was strapped to their hands such that each time they tried to eat none could feed him/ herself. “What a pity,” said the saint.

Then, the angel took her to heaven. There the saint was surprised to find the same setting, with delicious food. But unlike in hell, the men and women were having great time. “What!” asked the saint. “How is it that you are happy in this condition, with four-foot long fork strapped to your arms?” And they told him: “Here, we reach out and feed one another.” Can we say that of our families, our neighbourhood, our church, our world? If we can say that, then we are not far from the kingdom of heaven.

One of the greatest mistakes of judgements we can make is to project our ways unto God. For instance, we tend to fall in and out of love, hence we may see God in the same light. We can be unreliable in love, but God isn’t because God is love. That might appear contrary to the image of God in the bible where He appears happy at one moment and enraged at another.

Behind God’s ‘rage’ however is His love, His passion to set things right. It is like the anger of a father at his misbehaving child; it doesn’t mean hatred, it implies passionate desire for the child to improve.

Hence, as noted from today’s First Reading (2 Chronicles 36), God consistently showed His love for his unfaithful people (Israel) through sustained supply of prophets to admonish them lest they self-destruct.

But Israel would mock and despise the messengers of God; a case of love offered, and love refused.

Sometimes when things get so bad, a drastic action will be necessary to bring people to their senses. To drive home the message, God allowed the destruction of the Temple which meant everything for the Jew.

Sometimes to fix a broken limb more bones are broken. This is how the Jews came to understand that greatest calamity in their history. In narrating the ordeals of Israel; the destruction of the city and the Temple, and their 70 years of exile in Babylon, the Book of Chronicles doesn’t see it as God withdrawing His love but as a long and steady cleansing and purification of Israel to bring them to their best. The ordeals they experienced are expressions of divine anger which like that of a loving father reflects passionate desire for his child to improve.

How do we read calamities in our own lives? Are these meaningless sufferings or signs that God has abandoned us? No! Through them God usually draws our attention, calling us to order.

In the fullness of time, the God of sacrificial love who consistently gives in love gave all in Christ. In Christ, God emptied himself, hanging naked on the cross, his hands now fixed in an everlasting embrace of all peoples of all times.

The Gospel affirms in John 3: 16, that God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that anyone who believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.

Jesus is prefigured in Moses, who at God’s instruction, lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert, so that anyone bitten by the invading serpents who looked up at the bronze serpent recovers. In other words, no one who entrusts themselves to God through faith can be condemned.

It is never too late to make that leap of faith. On the other hand, whoever refuses to believe is already condemned. This is not at all directed at those who sincerely follow another faith or vision of life. The Gospel is rather clear that those under judgment and condemnation are people who chose darkness over light as with lives of evil and immorality: hate instead of love; vengeance instead of forgiveness; greed instead of sharing; taking instead of giving.

It is not a loving God who condemns; rather people choose to turn their backs on His love.

A person who lives by truth and integrity is not afraid of the light. Such a person has nothing to hide or to be ashamed of. Such persons are like the salt of the earth, like a city on a hill, like a candle on a lamp stand. People can see their goodness and so be led by them to Jesus and to God.

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