I have lived a life full of extravagant love that I had no idea existed.
In this respect, the 2019 film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood really brings this home to me. In particular, this scene really resonated for me.
Love in Adversity
In a recent Psychiatrist appointment, I related my recent experience with nightmares and flashbacks of horrible childhood matters that have recently resurfaced and become far worse than I think I have ever experienced. In my 50s, I would have thought that I had dealt with all of these issues, but the fact is that of recent times, the flashbacks and nightmares of my diagnosed complex PTSD have suddenly started to escalate again.
I sleep at most 4 to 6 hours a night for up to 4 or 5 nights in a row and then I will crash and sleep for around 8 hours. I am always tired, my thoughts are scattered and I find it difficult to string thoughts together for long enough to, for example, pray. Writing is really my only way of stringing thoughts and ideas together for any length of time at the moment. Hopefully things will settle down again soon.
PTSD works that way, I understand. Life lacks structure at the moment because of COVID and whilst I walk into my home office around 7:45am everyday and work at my job, it lacks the structure of office bound work. This lack of structure seems to activate my PTSD and it is hard for me to focus and discipline. All of us suffer this to some degree but for people with PTSD this is much worse.
My PTSD comes from severe trauma as a child. My earliest memory of school was being beaten severely by a playground bully. I still recall being revolted by the green in his nostrils even as I was held down and pummelled by him.
Other memories are of being surrounded by around 20 kids in my primary school in Allenstown in Central Queensland and them taking turns to run in and punch or slap me. I remember seeing two teachers and begging for help but being told to stop showing off… whatever that meant.
My nickname throughout school was “Snot” and I remember walking into the class to find that two girls had written “snot” all over the blackboard. I remember the teacher walking into the classroom and without saying a word, rubbing it off. I remember sitting through the class feeling very ashamed of myself.
I remember that every day, I had bruises or was in fear of being beaten up. I remember rarely fighting back and getting it at home because I should turn the other cheek. Being convinced that to fight back was a sin. I remember that at school I was vilified, at home I was “stupid” and at church I was an outcast. I remember fearing to sleep at night because then it would be morning and I would have to get up and be in fear at school.
This continued into adulthood because I am different and tribes of all sorts do not accept difference. It is of course difficult to see the extravagant love of God in this.
The “Judgement Seat” is really a Lie
I grew up believing the world was harsh but also that God was harsh and unyielding. I once believed that I would one day face “the judgement seat” and that this would be where I would be weighed, found wanting and likely cast out.
I have discovered that this is a lie. God’s love for us is extravagant and amazing and beyond belief. God has done none of these things to me, He loves and cares for me and He hates that this has happened to me.
The bullies, the abusers are my fellow humans, flawed and failing. God loves me and… He loves them. The human approach is revenge. God’s approach is redemption.
Revenge vs Redemption
Let me illustrate God’s approach.
Consider the story of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was a man who lived at the time of David. He was a man of some substance in the Kingdom of Israel. He had left behind a completely different world as a Hittite to follow King David and had married a beautiful woman of Israel. He served the kingdom well and loved God and the King.
The story is related in 2 Samuel 11.
David stole his wife and ultimately had Uriah killed in battle. The story is sordid and disgusting.
In the human concept of this story, it would be justice in the moment of Uriah’s death that God would wreak horrible vengeance on the evil king. But we don’t have God’s perspective.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.2 Pet 3:9 (ESV)
This statement by Peter bears some meditation. He is not willing to just let you go into oblivion but will fight for you through thick and thin.
He will judge the world, but He will fight to save you no matter what.
God’s perspective, as far as I understand it in this instance, is that Uriah is now in His keeping awaiting the day of resurrection. God remembers and honours the memory of His servant, Uriah.
His focus now is on rescuing David from his sin. What is it going to take to ensure that one day, Uriah and David meet once more in unity in the Kingdom of God? And so He sets about rescuing David from this evil that he has manifest.
Now, that’s what I mean by an extravagant love!
Justice or a Plan
My underlying flesh mind rages at the injustice of those two teachers who did not rescue me from the mob of kids. There are so many such injustices that I rage at and today, I still pay the price of abuse from people who have never owned their evil, who in some cases I still know or have knowledge of and who have lived full lives without suffering consequence for their wickedness toward me.
Their outcomes have little to do with me. God has a plan for me and that plan is to see me redeemed and sitting at the table of feasting in the marriage supper of the lamb.
I am not responsible for the outcomes for those who were abusive to me. My responsibility is to show mercy and compassion to them and to serve God. That’s it. That’s actually a manifestation of extravagant love.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.Joh 13:35 (ESV)
The mark of a servant of God is Love. Ethereal, otherworldly, extravagant love that marks us out as different from all other men. It is something that when those who do not serve God see, they exclaim “I want that!”
It draws others to us. This is how people will know the disciples of Jesus.
John reminds us:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.1 Jn 4:7 (ESV)
God is the author of an extravagant love for us and it must provoke in us an expression of extravagant love for others.
Is Extravagant Love in the face of abuse unnatural?
Sometimes that love doesn’t come naturally to us.
Let me relate again personal experience as a way of illustrating the difficulty. Others may share this experience and perhaps this will assist in contextualising this in your life.
The church was a place of abuse for me. I won’t detail the abuse here. Suffice to say that it has scarred me deeply even today. No place was ever really safe for me, school, home or church. Over the years, I have passed it off and minimised it in my conversation with others.
I remember my first panic attack in attending a church at 21 years old. I was asthmatic as a young person and I just assumed that it was an asthma attack. I was living away from my parents in Adelaide and though I had a puffer, I wasn’t under real care for this fading childhood illness.
As I sat in a church hall with my girlfriend, I found it getting harder to breathe. Didn’t matter about the puffer, I still couldn’t breathe and eventually I had to leave. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that there were dozens of such incidents during that year with lots of different manifestations. Because I was socially very involved with Church, I didn’t make the connection between Church and my panic.
By the time I was a married father, the incidents had grown until I couldn’t sit in a church without twitching, my hands, my neck, all of these nervous tics. Over the years these have grown until now, I will start to twitch, then I start to shake all over, then I start to grunt, then cry and often I can’t articulate words without stuttering.
I ceased attending church in October 2019 and of course with COVID, it has been possible to just slip away. I have been back twice since then and both were not good experiences.
I would say that I have developed a fairly deep and visceral distaste for organised religion for many of the things I have seen in church but also for the personal physical discomfort that it causes me.
Godly Love is not Easy
There is a difficulty with this however. Paul annunciates this in his first letter to the Corinthians.
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!1 Cor 16:22 (ESV)
If you love Jesus (Phileo or genuine affection), then you must love his body, the church.
This is not an option and I am wrestling with this. I have dealt with this in another article in fairly imperfect form. You can check it out here.
God’s Extravagant Love
The fact is that Godly love is not easy. I think that as a result of this difficulty, people create some fictions about Love and they shy away from the concept of an extravagant love.
One fiction is this whole theology around the difference between Agape and Phileo in the Greek. I have concluded that there is no real difference between them notwithstanding the various scholarship around the words.
God is not looking for some sort of “dutiful love” as some render Agape. I think a good perspective on this topic is given by John Piper here.
God’s perspective on love is actually quite intoxicating. I recently researched every occurrence in scripture of love, love from God, love to God, love between us, love of us for things, love of us for concepts. It is fascinating.
Let me take you through some examples of God’s love for us.
For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.Isa 54:10 (ESV)
This is just amazing. We live on the edge of a volcano. Make no mistake about it. This world is a volcano and it regularly erupts as God and His Angel and Jesus all work to bring about His purpose.
I have views on eschatology of course (I am a premillennialist) but I am not necessarily talking about end times. For a detailed debate on the forms of eschatology, please watch the below – be warned, its a long debate!
I am talking about the world’s tribes moving their positions under the influence of the Angels as they prepare the world for Jesus’s return (whenever that occurs).
We live in a highly volatile world with amazing powers at work that move mountains and shift hills, and we don’t expect to be affected by world events? We want a smooth transition through this world? That expectation is irrational and yet, His love and peace will not depart from us. They are a rock in a raging torrent, a shelter in a raging storm and a cave in a mountain blizzard.
The only thing solid for us to cling on to is the extravagant love of God and His peace. Peace comes from submission and obedience. When we sing along to Hillsong’s “I surrender” we need to mean it. The basis of the peace of God is that we bring ourselves into harmony with Him, we submit to Him. It is there for us and all we need to do is reach out for it.
His love for us is steadfast and it never departs. He loves us and has amazing compassion on us.
The word translated compassion is beautiful in relation to how God feels about us. God’s love to us is pure affection. It is not mere duty or a deliberate choice. It is the love of a father for His children. This is signified by this word which is also often rendered Love, Racham (pronounced Rawcham). Remember that this word means to love deeply, be compassionate, have tender affection and have compassion. It comes from a root word that means “to fondle”. In our words, we feel a deep emotion when we cuddle our children.
One of the most powerful renderings of this word for me is in Psalm 103:
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.Psa 103:13 (ESV)
To achieve peace with God is to achieve harmony with Him but look at how the Psalmist speaks of this:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.Psa 103:11-14 (ESV)
God actively removes those things from us that create disharmony with Him.
For an even more powerful declaration of God’s protective love toward us, consider Psalm 18, particularly these verses:
In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.Psa 18:6-10 (ESV)
That’s how God felt when I was abused. That’s how it was when Uriah was murdered, when Jesus was crucified and in all injustice in this world. He is furious, but He is also balanced. I needed to learn something from the abuse and in many respects it has moulded who I am today. David was an adulterer and a murderer, but God rescued him from his sin. Of course, Jesus is the greatest example of God’s love for us.
What is Godly Love?
So, what is God’s love?
God champions His people against those who would curse them.
But the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loved you.Deu 23:5 (ESV)
So those who love with a Godly love, stand up for the weak against those who wish them ill.
God always seeks to rescue the sinner from their evil deeds and even though Solomon was the product of David’s union with Bathsheeba, He loved him and prospered him:
Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him [Solomon in this instance]2 Sam 12:24 (ESV)
And when Solomon strayed later in his life, God loved him whilst still allowing the consequences of his sin:
Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin.Neh 13:26 (ESV)
Indeed, this is a pattern with God.
I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.Hos 14:4 (ESV)
He always seeks to rescue us from our failings and sins. Ultimately, He gave us Jesus to rescue us:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.Jn 3:16 (ESV)
The extravagant love of God for you and I has rescued us from the awful cycle of Sin and Death and brought us to Him in Jesus.
We must therefore be determined in working to rescue others regardless of their circumstance.
Manifesting Extravagant Love
Love is at the core of God’s character and for we who seek to manifest God in the earth, it must be at the core of our Character.
In Exodus, at the proclamation of the character of God, He asserts:
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.Ex 33:19 (ESV)
I will cuddle those whom I will cuddle! In all of His awesome might, He still still fondly cuddles us close.
I think this is the first and most important lesson in manifesting God’s love. No matter how powerful we might become in this world, everyone is worthy of our Love. We are always called on to love people in whatever flaws and failings that they may have. We are not the judges of the earth, we are fellow sufferers in this imperfect world, and we have a disposition of compassion and mercy for those around us.
God loves Justice as well as mercy.
For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.Isa 61:8 (ESV)
It’s ok to hate robbery and wrong. God does too. Love Justice and hate evil even in your compassion and mercy for all people.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?Micah 6:8 (ESV)
This is the essence of the Godly man. Act justly, be compassionate and walk humbly with God.
God is our friend, he sticks closer to us than a brother and so should we be in all of our dealings.
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.Pro 18:24 (ESV)
Remember that God yearns for the relationship He had before the fall. This is our yearning too. The greatest mark of the believer is his yearning for His God:
“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest.”Jer 2:2-3 (ESV)
the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.Jer 31:3 (ESV)
Our love for God is emotional, it is thoughtful and considered but over all it must be overwhelming and powerful. We cry to him and He inclines to hear us:
“Prayer is the mark of a lover. Those who deeply love Jesus can’t help but pray often. To love God with our entire being is the greatest command in Scripture. Pastors who are not drawn to prayer should not be pastors. It is in prayer that we seek the Lord and the welfare of our people.”Francis Chan, Letters to the Church
I can’t define what this ethereal, otherworldly, extravagant love manifestation might be in you, I hope that this article encourages you to explore it and pursue it.
It may be that we have grown up in the fear of God (unhealthy fear of punishment rather than reverence for Him). That’s ok, now you know the true God and you are being perfected in Love.
Pray often and live a life of Love in Him.