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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Guess how much I love you

One of the first books that Sarah was given was a little storybook called Guess How Much I Love You. The book tells the story of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare. Little Nutbrown Hare wants to communicate to his father how much he loves him: he loves him as high as he can reach, hop, jump; he loves him right the way along the lane and over the hill; he loves him all the way to the moon. Each time Little Nutbrown Hare tries to tell his dad how much he loves him, his father responds with an even bigger statement of love: if Little Nutbrown Hare loves his father as high as he can jump, then the father loves the son as high as he can jump; if Little Nutbrown Hare loves his father to the moon, then the father loves him to the moon...and back.

It is a tale of competitive out-loving. A children’s story that touches on the profound impossibility of truly articulating how much we love one another. Love is the stuff of similes and metaphors. We cannot grasp adequately at the right words to describe it. We dance around the deep truths of what it is to really love another because that love is beyond us; it is bigger than us; it cannot be tamed by language. Language is tricky. It slips and slides away from us. We struggle to trust it, struggle to believe in its sincerity. Sometimes even the most heartfelt words tumble and fall to the floor (to coin a phrase from Emma Healey’s remarkable novel, Elizabeth is Missing) because we cannot grasp hold of them. Perhaps this is why Paul uses so many words to try and describe what love is like in 1 Corinthians 13. He uses so many words in the hope that just one might stick, that in our wrestling to understand something of the height, width, depth and length of the unfathomable love of God (Ephesians 3:18) we might manage to cling on to the smallest part of it, because even the smallest part of it would encompass all of us; it would overwhelm and surround us, enfolding us in the boundlessness of the love of our Creator.

When Sarah was born, the intensity of what I felt towards her took me back. It was something entirely new: a fierce, jealous, protective love that gushed out in hot tears. As I held her tiny body, and whispered hello to this new little life over and over again, I was racked with love for her. As the days and weeks pass, I cannot help but look at her and love her. I cannot help simply looking and beholding her smile, listening to her clucks and gurgles, watching her little tightly clenched fingers wrap themselves around mine.

One morning as I read her the story of Little and Nutbrown Hare, I felt that God posed the same challenge to me that the little hare poses to his father: guess how much I love you. Dare I believe that the King of the Universe feel towards me what I feel towards my daughter? That fierce, hot love that bubbles up and over into tears of joy? That ache in my chest that is almost painful? That innate protective instinct that would do anything to keep her harm? Dare I believe that the love of God for me is such that he would give his only son to have me back? He would give the most precious thing in his possession that I might be restored to relationship with him and allowed to call him Father, Abba, daddy?

I could never give Sarah up. The thought of giving her up for for someone else is entirely unthinkable. I cannot allow such a thought to form in my head because it is so ludicrous. And yet God’s love for us is such that this is exactly what he did. For the Father so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. (John 3:16) Let those overly familiar words sink in. Wash away the jadedness of a verse that we quote too often and too unthinkingly. That is how much our heavenly Father loves us - that he would allow us to murder his Son for our salvation. And that is how much the Son loves us: that he would agree to such a plan, that he would willingly walk the way of the cross, that he would be held to the cross not by nails but by love. No one took Jesus’ life from him. He laid it down. (John 10:18) He was not forced to the cross by an angry and abusive Father. He chose it. We are not left to guess what God’s love for us looks like. It looks like Good Friday. (1 John 4:9-10) It looks like a Son who knows that the only way for his lost brothers and sisters to come home is for him to be abandoned by his Dad. A Son who embraces our estrangement from the Father, who is forsaken that we might not be.

I do not claim to understand any of this. I am scratching the surface of something that is too deep and too wide. My words are tumbling to the floor even as I type them. They are too fickle and too insubstantial to hold Him. And yet they are all that I have to communicate something that is too precious to be contained within the bounds of language. And so that is my prayer on this dark Saturday before the glory of Sunday’s sunrise: that we might know the love that passes knowledge, that we might be filled to the measure of all the fullness of our God (Ephesians 3:19), that we might dare to trust in the love of a Father who gave up everything to win us back.

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