Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:5-6)
Now we get to the heart of the matter for the Reformed Tradition. For those of us who are the theological descendants of John Calvin, a very important part of our understanding of who God is includes this: God is sovereign.
For hundreds of years, everyone has concluded that means that God controls every single thing that occurs – which is scripturally supported, by the way. However, that leads to God being responsible for great evil, e.g. the Holocaust, and many of us are understandably uncomfortable with that. Luckily, it is also scripturally supported to say that sovereignty may look different for God than it does for us humans.
Another Reformed theologian named Karl Barth, who lived in the twentieth century, proposed a different view of sovereignty: if God is love, and love cannot force its own will, then we have to be able to say no. If our relationship with God is truly based in love, then by God’s own description through the letters of Paul, we must have at least the freedom to choose those things that are against God’s purposes. This would, of course, break God’s heart, but there can be no true relationship if both parties involved do not enter into it freely.
What does this mean for us?
For one thing, it means that God loves us so much that God seeks us no matter what and equips us with everything we need to choose God. But it also means that we do not have to.
In addition, it means that for all of us humans, who bear the image of God, we are called to live into the same form of life that God has chosen. That means giving up the need to dominate and control the way “sovereignty” usually implies. It means letting go of irritations and resentments. It means no longer supporting those who are causing things that are against God’s purposes. And it means that we are to seek the truth – because love without it is mere fancy.
As we approach Valentine’s Day next week, let’s consider how we might live into our call as God’s image bearers to love better and to finally let go of all those things that love cannot sustain.