I’ve just returned from speaking at our church on the topic of ‘Love’, because there’s no reason why my first church-based speaking engagement in years should be about something, you know, easy.
I used to work for a charity called Tearfund. I was in the glamorous business of, as it was known back then, ‘Income Processing’. That meant that if you sent in a donation, I was one of the people who made sure that your gift ended up allocated to the right project. You too can ascend to such dizzying heights if you have a degree in theology.
One day we received a letter with a donation. The gist of the letter was that the writer had been saving up to buy a new house, but that God had made it clear to her that she wasn’t to move. The donation was, she wrote, the money that she had saved so far towards her new house. Her donation was a cheque for £80,000.
What I remember most about this was the letter. By the tone, the wording and reading between the lines I was certain that this letter should have had a postscript, and it should have read ‘P.S. I’m not happy about this‘. There was a resigned frustration, a subtle anger in the wording. This was £80,000 worth of painful submission.
One day, an elderly man who had once walked around Palestine with an itinerant preacher and trouble-maker wrote his own letter, and in it you find the words, “This is love for God: To obey his commands.”
What an intriguing paradox; the topsy turvey Kingdom of God in action. Love for God has little to do with feelings, and much to do with obedience. Like the woman who surrendered £80,000, it is possible to be angry with God, resentful towards God, frustrated by Him, but if you do what He asks, then you love Him nonetheless. ‘A cold and broken Hallelujah,’ as Leonard Cohen sang. Hollywood tells us that we should have soaring violins and misty-eyed glances across a crowded room, but true love can be spitting bile as long as it obeys. After all, what you do shows to whom your heart really belongs.