“Love” has virtually become a bankrupt word—a scarecrow of a word without life other than the dried meanings we stuff inside it.
After all, we can “love” anything, can’t we? I love my fiancée. But I also love tacos. I certainly don’t love tacos the way I love my fiancée, but when I’m hungry the magnitude feels close.
One of the most fascinating books I’ve read in the last few years has been one by Yale professor Simon May as he chronicles the history of love in western cultures. Though not a spiritual man, May begins with the Hebrew Bible and then moves through the years, from writers ranging from ancient philosophy to Sigmund Freud.
In surveying this wide spectrum, he concludes that “love” is a sense of “ontological rootedness,” or—more simply—love is a feeling of being “at home” with someone. It’s a way of saying: I belong here.
JOY AND RELAXATION
If you’re a follower of Jesus you probably have no problem using “love” and “God” in the same sentence. Chances are you do so every time you participate in a worship service.
But I bet there are many of you who struggle to comprehend what it truly means to experience the love of God, and so you may find yourself wondering if your love for him is real—or perhaps just a bit one-sided.
Yesterday we started looking at portions of Jesus’ farewell address to his followers on the night he was arrested. He encourages them to “abide” in him—to be saturated in his presence and to allow his character to become their own.
Now he describes the joy that the love of God can produce:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)
Love comes from God, Jesus tells us. Jesus’ relationship to his Father serves as a model for our obedience to Christ.
Then Jesus clarifies the reason for these instructions. In a word: joy. What is joy? Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness, of course, is utterly dependent on circumstances. With a single phone call, a single bad day at work, a single negative remark, and our fragile happiness now lies on the ground in a thousand glittering slivers.
Joy is independent of circumstances. Joy is finding contentment in God alone, knowing that he is enough regardless of what happens around us.
This is why understanding God’s love is so important. I once heard faith defined as a willingness to relax. Are there people in your life that you can relax around? Not your boss; he or she probably makes you nervous. Maybe not even members of your family. There’s some people who you feel like you have to impress, or keep calm, or “manage” rather than relax around.
But there’s others—a small handful—around whom we can be completely comfortable, completely vulnerable. Maybe it’s that close friend that you can pick up the phone at any hour, and resume a conversation as if you’d never hung up. Maybe it’s your spouse, the one who knows your most intimate flaws and sees only the edges of God’s design in you. Around these people, you are free to relax, to experience joy.
God knows you through and through. To abide in Christ, to have faith, means to relax. I don’t mean we’re free to be lazy; I mean that because we rely on Christ’s righteousness, we have the confidence that we are perfectly and eternally loved and accepted.
Breathe easy, dear Christian. There’s joy here.
WHAT MORE COULD HE HAVE DONE?
Still, it’s hard to fully wrap our heads around the magnitude of what God has done on our behalf. Again, turning to Jesus, this is what he says:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)
Jesus speaks of the fact that we did not choose him—he chose us. And we are joined as one by his blood, a blood poured out on our behalf.
Brennan Manning offers an illustration of this in his book The Importance of Being Foolish. He tells the story of Casey and Jack—two best friends who served together during the heaviest combat of the Korean War. One dreary night, in the midst of a light snow, a hand grenade landed in the bunker where Casey and Jack were positioned. Without hesitation, Casey threw himself on the grenade.
When the war ended Jack entered the religious life. In sympathy for the loss of her son, Jack befriended Casey’s mother. So strong was their bond that he would often divide his holidays between his family and that of his departed friend.
One summer he visited during a state of profound depression. Unexpectedly, Jack asked if Casey—the same Casey that had thrown himself on a live grenade—really loved him. Brennan writes:
She laughed. “Oh, Jack, ya sure got a way with ya.” It was a faint Irish brogue.
“Ya can’t be serious.”
“I am serious,” Robison replied.
There was fear in her eyes. “Now stop funnin’ me, Jack.”
“I’m not funnin, Ma”
She looked at him in disbelief. Then fear turned to fury…this night she stood up and screamed, “…what more could he ha’ done fer ya?”
Then she sank back in the chair, buried her head in her bosom, and began to sob. Over and over again the same phrase was endlessly, unbearably repeated: “What more could he ha’ done fer ya’?” 
We all experience seasons in which we may doubt the love of God. We all have seasons in which we find it hard to “relax” in the love of God, to feel “at home” in his presence.
Then we look at the cross.
We look at the place where Jesus bled and died, we look at the place where love ran red as our sin washed white, where God’s justice was met and our debts were wiped clean.
And as we look, we are lifted out of the shallow narratives of discontent that we insist on playing in our minds, and instead lean into the great story of God’s redemption.
What more could he have done?
 Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish, p. 62.