To Try and Love is to Know God
By Brain Gaybba
Beloved, let us love one another because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8
As an old man looking back over his life as a Christian, as someone who had walked and talked with Jesus, had listened to him preaching, seen him die and had experienced him as risen again — as he approached death, the apostle John found himself writing increasingly about the centrality of love.
For him, it was the key to understanding everything about God. Indeed, he comes up with a definition of God that was quite stunning. God, he says quite simply, is love.
And from that flows important consequences.
The first is that everyone who struggles to love is a child of God. Loving others is not easy, but anyone who struggles to do so is thereby transformed into God’s likeness.
And as such, he or she becomes a child of God. That person may be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist or indeed someone for whom the very idea of God has become quite unbelievable.
But if that person joins in the human struggle to love others, then they are a child of Love with a capital L. They are a child of God. Even if, as in my case, their human weaknesses leave them bruised and disfigured by the sinfulness we all share, they are, like the bruised and disfigured Jesus, a child of God.
Love Comes From God
The second consequence of John’s dramatic statement that God is love, is (as he himself says) that everyone who loves knows God.
If one takes this statement seriously, it means that knowing about God is not the only way to know God. And this, in turn, means that someone could know God without even recognising that they do so.
Indeed, someone who may reject the very idea of God as misguided may, without realising it, know God. Why? Because they know love. And the person who knows love with a lower-case ‘l’ already has some experience of Love with a capital L.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:11-12
Thirdly, and finally, John tells us that whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.
As Paul put it in his letter to the Corinthians, love never ends. When someone dies, especially someone who has struggled to love others, they die into the arms of love.
Paul described love as always being patient and kind, as never storing up grievances, as being always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. If that is meant to be a mark of our weak, human love, how much more is it the mark of the Love that is God, an infinite love that forgives infinitely?
I spent my life talking about God but never believed I had a real experience of God. But I got it wrong. All we can say is that we are loved and forgiven by God. And accepting that, and believing that, WE BECOME LOVE.
This reflection, included in Prof Gaybba’s funeral instruction, was read out at his Requiem Mass in St Patrick’s church in Grahamstown last month.