“An Ugly Love that makes things New and Beautiful” – Fourth Sunday of Lent

2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-23
Psalm 137: 1-6
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 3: 14-21

The Western conception of God, from the latter part of the 20th century to now, has been understood as the God of Love. And rightly so, the claim is true. It seems that whenever we say that “God is Love”, we mean to conceptualize God as a sort of pacifist, a cosmic figure who is passive and nice. That conceptualization is problematic, though, because it renders an inconsistent image of God in terms of how we understand Him and the way Sacred Scripture portrays Him.

The scripture readings show an example of that problem. The gospel reading proclaims God’s love by sending His son. In fact, it is one of the most quoted biblical passages in scripture, for it refers to the great love of God to those who believe in Him. However, in the first reading, we see God’s wrath arising towards His people, for they had been unfaithful. Isn’t God supposed to be nice? Isn’t He supposed to love us all the time and not punish us? What’s up with the wrath? Some take on this perspective; they say they love God, sing praise and worship to Him when everything is going well. Yet, all of a sudden, when things start spiraling down, they start questioning God’s love and, even unfortunately, turn their backs on Him. This mentality refers to what is now understood as the “Gospel of Wealth”, an understanding that having wealth and living in prosperity are testaments to God’s love and the lack of wealth and prosperity is a sign of God’s abandonment. Every one of us, at some point, have had this mentality, much of it is because of how our modern culture inculcates our attitude towards religion, a culture purely born out of the state completely divorced from religion. However, God’s love is more than what we can ever think of. In meditating through all the readings, we find the fact that “God is love”—as we understand it, is just part of the bigger picture.

In the second Book of the Chronicles, we do witness God’s wrath by the coming of the king of Chalde’ans who “slew young men and virgin alike”, burning the Jerusalem Temple, and enslaving all the Jews. This terror can be likened to ISIS destroying the White House, killing the president, slaughtering elder American citizens, and enslaving many of the citizens. Or perhaps, destroying and burning St. Peter’s Basilica, beheading the Pope, hunting all Catholics for murder, and enslaving some. Or on a more personal level, it is like an abusive and alcoholic father—hunted by his demons—beating up his wife to death, stabbing his son because the son was protecting his mother, and raping his 14 year old daughter. You pretty much get the idea: such a terrible catastrophe for a “loving” God to allow to happen. What kind of a “loving” God would allow all such terrible things to happen, especially all the terrible things we witness through the news and others, rendering us uncomfortable? Is this God nothing but a deceiver? Is this God worth loving all the way to our last breath? These are some of the questions we are likely to ask when things go wrong, even more so the questions the Jews were likely asking when they were in exile.

We recall the gospel reading last week, where our Blessed Lord turned tables down, threw away all the money and commodities being sold, and said to the Jewish officials to tear down the temple and in three days He will restore it. Our Blessed Lord said such a thing in response to question what right He has in displaying such rage and scandal before all the people. At this point, we find a resemblance between the “God of New Testament” and the “God of Old Testament”: both acted out of fury. Why fury? Passion is a form of love, and sometimes fury is necessary to express how sincere a person is. Similarly, sometimes it takes a destruction of an old thing to create something new. This is the exact point our Blessed Lord was pushing through when He told the officials to destroy the temple that has long stood erect for a thousand years. A little of bit historical context, the Jewish Temple is the summit of Jewish life in its entirety; all the political, cultural, social, and religious currents of Jewish life spring out of the temple. Our Blessed Lord insisted that the temple be destroyed, not because He’s merely a rebel, but because He saw how “polluted” the Temple had been for hundreds of years, so that the old Temple can be replaced by a new one, which is His body. Suppose a family finds out that there is a dysfunction in the foundation of their house and if nothing is done with the foundation the house would break down. Assuming that the family wants to keep the house, they decided to call for the destruction of their house to allow for a fixing of its foundations to recreate it anew. Sometimes, it takes some destruction to take place for a creation to proceed. One has to leave his or her old job to move on to a new one. It takes some dealings of failure to understand what success truly means. It takes being away from family to understand how important they are. It takes a heartbreak to understand what love truly is. It takes going through sadness to experience authentic joy. It takes living in poverty to appreciate what living in prosperity truly means. So when we say “God is love”, it actually means that God’s love is a purifying one. It is purifying in a sense that it constantly thrives for something new. It takes war to grow in appreciation of peace. It takes unrest to truly realize what it means to live in peace. It takes sin for one to repent and come back to God’s loving arms again. It takes an offense to learn what it truly means to forgive.

A lot of times we say we’re blessed when receive great things—a job promotion, a new house, a new car, or ending up victorious in any sort of person battle we go through. There is a pleasing, aesthetic value in all of those things, and we call that value “blessing”. But did you know that there is a greater blessing in things such as failure, loss, hardships, and heartbreak? I say such a thing because, in going through those things, we come to appreciate success, gain, prosperity, and being in love again. Going through those things is God’s way of purifying our hearts and soul, which won’t take into effect unless we welcome that process through faith. These blessings I describe are what St. Paul calls “grace” in his letter to the Ephesians. For St. Paul, failures, losses, hardships, and heartbreaks are graces wrapped around in ways we can never think of. And so he proclaims that it is those things that will save us, if only we have faith. Even more so, he makes a more radical step by claiming that all things we seem to avoid in life are actually God’s gifts to us—again, wrapped in ways we never think of. If we accept all things in our lives—joy and sadness, pain and comfort, wealth and poverty, success and failure alike—with faith we are saved. There is a song by Laura Story entitled “Blessings” that captures God’s purifying love, where she says in one of the lines “What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy? What if the trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest nights are your mercies in disguise” God’s love is more than anything human thought can ever understand of it. Only if we have the faith to see where that purifying love is leading us.

As continue in this season of Lent, let us pray for our loving God to strength our faith and persevere in it, so that we may enter the new paradise He promised for us. Amen.

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