When we speak about God, we often say that 'God is Love.' And when we talk about the way that God responds to His creation, we say, again, that 'God is Love.' And when we talk about what it means for us to be like God in this world, we talk about what it means to love one another.
But what about the beloved?
Love is intimately personal; it cannot exist without a beloved. You cannot scatter love in this world the way you'd thrown confetti or the way that rain falls. You have to give love, hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart, as you'd give any other good gift. Love looks people in the eye and offers itself to the beloved.
I, and many others like me, have written much about what it means to live as the beloved, what it means to live loved, what it means to show God's love of us to the world and manifest our being loved in our very lives. And all of that is good and true and important. But as I thought most recently about what it means to live in relationship, and particularly what love means in a relationship, I couldn't help but think about God.
We know Him as Lover, but how often do we think of Him as Loved?
It changes something, doesn't it? It does for me. It's so easy for me to think about God as this active agent in the world, always loving, always creating, always redeeming. Always offering grace and answering prayer and responding to the needs of His children. When I think of God as an active agent in this world, it's hard to imagine Him as anything less in relationship with me. If you talk about me and God, He does all the work, and I enjoy the riches. He does all the saving, and I am merely saved. He does all the loving, and I am simply loved. And I'm tempted to call this 'relationship.'
But that's not relationship. Not at all. Relationship is a two-way street. And even what I might say are my best offerings to God do not necessarily come close.
For example, I may worship Him. And that seems like a 'give' in my mostly 'take' relationship. But my worship of Him is not relationship. Not at all. In worship, He is elevated, and I am lowly. We're not seeing each other eye-to-eye. We're not extending our hands to one another. If I raise my hands at the same moment that He opens His, well...picture it. It's a dance, maybe, but it's not relationship.
I may pray to Him. But 'want' is not relationship, either. I go to the ATM, to the store, to the flea market with 'want,' but I have relationship with none of these things or places. I speak to the server at the restaurant to convey my immediate desires, but that's a transaction, and nothing more. It's not a relationship. And no, prayer is not supposed to be wholly 'want' or 'desire,' but let's be honest - it often is. In true prayer, I'm starting to get close to relationship, but who among us prays true all the time?
These are just two of the ways I respond to God (there are many more), but it must be said that simply responding to God is not the same as relating to Him. Relationships are reciprocal. They're conversational. They're give-and-take. There's so much God gives me that I could never give to Him. It's absurd to think I could offer God grace in return for His grace, mercy in return for mercy. It's foolish to think I could ever save Him; it is He who has saved me. Nor would I expect Him to worship me in the way that I worship Him, or to pray, beseeching my favor; I have no favor of worth to offer Him.
Love is the holy ground where we meet. Because God loves me and I can return this gift. I can love Him back, which does this beautiful think and makes the Lover the Beloved.
And it changes what I see in His eyes.
It changes the way I think about God when I know that He knows that I love Him. It changes the way I understand Him, and understand Love, when I discover that Love means something to Him, too. Not just in the way He gives it, but in the way that I give it, in the way that He receives. Maybe I'm merely a child. Maybe my love is macaroni art, but His eyes light up anyway. Maybe my love is just scribbles, but there's a refrigerator in the heavens with my scribbles all over it. Maybe my love is cheesy, but there's a picture of the two of us in a 'World's Best God' frame on His holy mantel. And it changes the way I think about Him. Lover, yes, but also Beloved.