The Loving Nature of God – Father Istifanus Sheyin
Gratitude should always be in the lips of every Christian; it is a foundational attitude of every Christian. In the 1st letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians 5:18, St Paul admonishes us to always give thanks to God in all circumstances. Indeed we have to because of God’s abundant love and goodness in our lives. In the gospel reading, Christ says, ‘a new commandant I give to you… Love one another as I have loved you’. This was said within the context of the last supper. It is a continuation of what we heard during the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday). We must realise that Jesus is not presenting a teaching that has nothing to do with his life. His life is a full manifestation of love. Earlier in this passage, Christ talks about the moment of glory. This moment of glory is in the reality of the cross; Jesus did not see in the cross a punishment but an irreplaceable glory. This entails that we must at all times see opportunities in our hardships or difficulties.
In the first reading, St Paul said that through tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God. In the letter to the Hebrews chapter 12:7-8, it says, ‘Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all’. The father disciplines the children out of love. Jesus speaks about this love so convincingly. He is not talking about worldly love which is selective, conditional, tribalistic, attractive, etc. You can be loved because of what would be gained from you. Some people are utility friends; they identify with you when they see something to gain from you. This kind of love is fake. The love Christ is talking about is the love that is intrinsically connected to the being of God. This is genuine love. It is in the very essence of God. In the life of the Israelites, they had a relationship with God that was founded on genuine love. And so it is with us. We are here because of the love of God and this love is not conditional.
It is also important to say that our relationship with God must be in a triangular form, from man to man, man to God and God to man. In the first letter of John 4:20, it says, ‘whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen’. People go to church every day but when they step out, they exhibit hatred.
We must understand that the kind of love we are talking about here is sacrificial and modelled after Christ. In Greek, there are 3 kinds of love:
Eros: between opposite sex.
Philia: between people who are close, between family members.
Agape: when you seek for the greater good of others even when they are not concerned about you. It is sacrificial.
In the gospel of Mark 10:17-22, a rich man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Having quoted the commandments which the young man testified he has kept all of them, Jesus looked at him and loved him. He then asked him to go sell all that he had and give it to the poor and then follow him. Scripture says the young man left very sad for he was a man of great possession. As Christians, we are called to fulfill the demands of love and not the demands of the law. And we cannot sufficiently fulfill the demands of love. Therefore, moral respectability is not enough to earn you eternity. You may have spent your life avoiding to do anything against anybody (avoiding crime) but what have you done for others just like the story of the rich man? Love is about going out and doing things for others. The 1st letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 13 says, If I speak in tongues or in the language of angels and do not have love, I am like a noisy gong. Love is patient and kind. Peace, understanding, generosity, kindness and humility are part of the characteristics of love.
In a county that is filled with so much hate, insecurity and depression which has led some people to commit suicide, we need people to go into the world and be ministers of love. When we hear someone commits suicide, there is a tendency for us to judge but depression is real and often, we are not aware of what the other person is going through. Whatever you are going through, try to talk to someone. Suicide is not an option. Problems shared is half solved. Also, do not build your entire life around somebody. When the person stops doing what the person is doing, what happens? We must come to terms with the reality of who we are and must live within our means.
Finally, learn how to talk to people. You have no idea what the person is going through. Talk to people politely. One of the most effective ways of treating depression is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral therapy). This is repositioning the person’s distorted thinking and modifying his or her behavior. It is therapeutic to talk to people politely. The first love is the love of oneself and one’s life. This is why Christ says love your neighbour as yourself. You cannot give what you do not have. If you do not love yourself, how then can you love others? It may not be your fault that we have selfish leaders in this country and that things are not going on well. It will certainly be your fault if you do not value the love of God in your life. It is this love that brings you to your destiny. Before you are a Nigerian, you are first a human being created in the image and likeness of God. Your nationality does not determine your identity. Nigeria can determine what you are but not who you are. God gives us our identity. Live your life to the fullest and love one another as He has loved us. In the 2nd reading, God said, ‘I will make all things new’. He will always make all things new. May the love of God abide with us both now and forever. Amen.