You were my strength when I was weak
You were my voice when I couldn't speak
You were my eyes when I couldn't see
You saw the best there was in me
Lifted me up when I couldn't reach
You gave me faith 'coz you believed
I'm everything I am
Because you loved me
The title above is from a wonderful song by Celine Dion. The message for me in these marvelous lyrics is one of transformation. In my mind, I picture someone who has been transformed by the power of another’s love for them. Without that love they would have been insufficient, obscure, haunted, in all ways incomplete. But, in light of the love they have received, they have achieved and experienced all that has real meaning in this life. Love has made all the difference, in reality, the difference between life and death, between living and just existing.
If one is concerned about how to transform mankind and eliminate destructive behaviors, the historical approach has been to pass legislation, establish judicial authority, and punish the non-conformist lawbreakers. The prevailing logic says that 10% of us need to be restrained, so as to protect the remaining 90%. The Bible is even claimed as the source or basis for much of our legal system. Certainly the scriptures have a thing or two to say about law-keeping, judgment, and punishment. However, with the coming of Christ a new day was promised, one that led to a complete transformation, described symbolically as a new heaven and a new earth. The prescribed basis for this transformation was the ultimate demonstration of God’s love. Love was to be the motivating force behind the dawning of a new day.
Despite the obvious fact that Jesus came to bring peace and a manifestly different world, mankind continues to rely on the old ways of doing business. Transformation is not thought to be possible, because man is still too inherently wicked. With that as the prevailing opinion, our societal response to undesirable behaviors has been suppression through legal systems, both ecclesiastic and governmental. Instead of transforming lives we speak of rehabilitating criminals. In actuality rehabilitation is just a measure of how many prisoners return to prison. It in no way implies that the reasons people ended up in prison in the first place have been addressed and resolved.
Obviously in this song, the love is the romantic love between a man and a woman, the subject of many, many songs down through the ages. However, whenever I hear these words I can’t help but think about another kind of love, that of God for mankind, his eternal beloved. Since we all probably wish for some transformation in our society and our collective behaviors, I also wonder about the possible effect of a full comprehension of God and his capacity to love beyond measure. If man can be so uplifted by the love of another human being, what would be the result of experiencing God’ love? Could the effect be anything less than dramatic by comparison?
I believe that the message of the song lyrics holds the answer to what has real transforming power in the lives of men and women. We can, in fact, go to the Bible for this answer, but it is not to the Old Testament rule book but rather to the New Testament emphasis on the power of love. I John 4 tells us boldly and profoundly that God is love; he is defined by that characteristic. God is the author and finisher of love for all mankind, and he is the power behind every loving act. God, for sure, understands the power of love, and he fully appreciates its transforming effect on the human heart. As humans we have to love another despite their faults. No one is perfect, so flawed persons are all that’s available to love. God is the same. He loves imperfect individuals.
I think most of us have experienced the soaring emotions associated with being loved and loving in return. This human to human love is thrilling and poets have tried in vain to capture it in words for centuries. Sadly, the opposite of love is also powerful. The lack of love scars lives and fills our public institutions with the affected people.
God’s love is much greater than any we have ever experienced on a human to human level. It is totally consistent, never wavering. God’s love is great enough to extend to everyone. He does not have to limit himself to loving a few folks because he is overwhelmed by too much emotion. If the experience of human love can have such a wonderful effect on an individual, how much more so the realization of God’s much greater love. Could lives be changed for the better by seeing God as our unconditional lover?
What an intriguing idea- that men can be changed by God’s love. Not by a fear of God and his retribution, but by the mere fact that God cares deeply about their welfare and is working subtly in their lives to help them realize his presence and his blessing. How powerful is it to say that I am everything I am because God loved me, which makes me worthy. How much grander is that than the much favored notion that I am what I am because of my family affiliation, my financial status, my physical beauty, my wisdom, my moral character, or any other conceivable element of human achievement or birthright.
We know for sure what does not work in transforming the world- more laws, more judgments, more retribution. It’s time to try something counterintuitive, like embracing the power of love as demonstrated in the working of God. I know the greatest teacher of human history would agree, because he had much to say about love as the preeminent spiritual quality. His message was so profound that it has been dismissed as theoretically true but not real world practical. To attempt to make Jesus just another proponent of the law, like Moses, is to completely miss the reason for his sacrifice in the first place. Jesus did not die so we could have more of the same. He died to set men free, to make their burdens easy, to bring them peace, to be the ultimate example of God’s love and by extension of its power.