This year has been a roller coaster for me. This year has contained some of the best moments of my life, and unconditionally the worst too. I wondered whether to write a post about the year; what would I say? Would I dwell on the awesome things, or be swept up in the emotion caused by the bad thing? Would I tone it happy or sad? Would it end on a crescendo of hope or on me crying in a hospital corridor? Then, sat in a movie, it suddenly struck me what the over arching thing that I have learned this year is. It’s love. You see sometimes life does not make sense, and when that happens we need to look deeper to what is constant and what is running through it. What runs through my year is love. I’m not going to announce with fan fare that I’ve discovered the mysteries of women or that I have found true affection in the form of my cat. This year is all about the love of God. Everything that has happened this year, even the stuff that blew me away with grief, is underpinned by His love.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:35-39 (ESV)
In this passage Paul describes the love of Christ and how nothing at all can separate us from it. In one of the most beautiful passages of scripture he paints a picture of a love so strong that literally nothing can tear us apart. I think sometimes, swept up in his prose, we can almost start to think of this as a poetic way of describing a great love. We can cast Paul as Byron and Christ as his Anne Wilmot, capturing his attentions. And that is where we fall. You see Paul’s purpose is not poetry, it is not superlatives, it is not to create some figurative expression of love. Paul’s purpose is to tell us literal fact. What makes it so beautiful is the fact that the literal truth of God’s love is the most beautiful thing any of us will ever know.
At the start of this year, at my lowest ebb and feeling no great desire to continue with life itself, when all of my earthly strength was gone, God stepped in. He gave me strength that I needed to meet the challenge. At moments of wavering He held me firm. Then He brought me into a place where I have become planted, and He put people around me who showed His love through their actions. He restored me to a position where my faith came together with those other two things: hope and love. Then, almost at the end of the year, we sat in hospital and lost Lizzie. And you know what? The love of God was with me just as much at the lowest point as the high.
So how can I reconcile suffering with love? How can I remember the time in hospital and think God was busy loving me? How can I look at tsunamis, earthquakes, war and think God is busy loving us? Because God hates evil. None of those horrible things are God’s perfect plan for us. None of them. Do we think for one moment God enjoys seeing bad things happen to good people? No. But they happen because he loved us so much in a garden all those years ago that instead of creating a race of drones that loved Him back, He created us with free will to love Him or not and to obey Him or not. Our world is a result of our free will and our free will is a result of His love. God hates to see pain and suffering, but He wanted us to be free and because He saw what freedom caused He then made the ultimate act of love for us. He turned his face away from His own Son and let Him die on a cross so that the pain and tribulation we sometimes experience here was not the end and that we could enter an eternal romance with Him.
Talking about his book, Erasing Hell, Francis Chan makes the point that God’s ways are not our ways. We don’t understand how God can allow some things to happen, we wouldn’t have done it that way. But then neither would we have sent our own child to die to save people. And there we have it. This year I’ve seen God’s love in the way He has radically blessed me and changed my life, and that same love there while the worst things happened. His love does not change, earthly circumstances can shake us and cause us pain but the emotions we feel at these times are not a reflection of any change in His love to us. His love is still there, as constant as our heart beat and even more so because His love will never stop.
So looking back on this year, on the vast array of emotions it has contained. On joy, pain and everything in between, I see that through it all God has brought me to realise that bit more of what Paul was talking about. I know now that no matter what happens in the future, no matter the circumstance, no matter the pain, nothing can separate me from His love. It is what sustains me and keeps me going, it is more vital than oxygen. This is what Paul knew and what sometimes we only learn by going through the mill, God’s love for us is unshakeable. He valued us as the life of His only son and He is never ever going to stop loving us, He simply can’t because anything less than His immense, passionate, all consuming, love for us would mean His Son had died for nought. My friend, He paid for you with the life of His son. He is never going to stop loving you, this imperfect world will pass away and in a perfect eternity we get to see and realise how deep that love is. Up until that point none of us will ever really be able to understand it, 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us that, but I can honestly say that after the past year, it’s something that I am starting to understand more vividly. God coloured my year in His love.