16God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
I remember the dinner table argument with my stepfather after I came home from a high school youth retreat filled with joy and zeal. I talked about the “trust walk” where we divided into twos. One person was blindfolded and trusted the other to lead him or her through the wooded paths of our retreat center. It was a metaphor for trusting God, and a practical application of loving one another. But something in that story set my stepfather off, and pretty soon we were arguing whether I would let a member of the Black Panthers lead me blindfolded through the streets of Oakland. He was certain I was foolish, and the militant African-American foot soldier would lead me out into the middle of traffic.
I know better, now, that there is evil in the world. I also know that evil does not come easily. I stand by my argument that I would not have been harmed in Oakland; I am not sure if that would apply just now in the battlefields of ISIL
“God is love” can seem pretty simple-minded in the hard-nosed world. And my stepfather was right to think me naïve. But God is love. And loving as we are loved requires great strength of character. It is a far more difficult, costly, and sometimes dangerous, path than I imagined as a teen.
“God is Love.” God is steadfast fidelity to the world, to humanity, to each of us. God is a determined allegiance, a zealous choice to see each of us as members of his household despite the ways we use, abuse and defame him and one another. “Every imagination of the human heart was only evil continually,” is God’s observation at the time of Noah, yet God rescues Noah and his family – not because they were so righteous, but because God was faithful and would not abandon the world he had made. Humanity is no different when they descend from the ark. The disaster does not change them; but God is changed. God hangs his Kalashnikov in the heavens – pointing no longer at humanity but, if anywhere, at himself. God will take the bullet.
God is Love. Determined to create a world without slavery, he rescues Israel and Egypt. At great cost. Human willfulness does not die easily. Children were dying under slavery. In the end, God had to let all Egypt see the death they were dealing.
God is Love. Determined to create a just and merciful world. And the price has been terribly high. Not just the fall of the northern kingdom, nor the brutal siege and sacking of Jerusalem. Ultimately it comes to a cross outside Jerusalem where God lays his own life on the line. And still we persist. Still children perish. Still God confronts us with our terrible works: death camps, razed cities, nuclear weapons, impoverished communities, refugees, a child with a broken neck dragged into a police van. God makes us see all the crucified.
God is Love. We are slow to learn. There is a terrible price. But there are some who understand.
The martyr’s path is holy. Not the martyr’s path chosen by radical Islam – that is the great and wide path of violence. But the narrow path that risks all to feed the hungry, to teach the children, to tend the sick. The martyr’s path is holy, the path that sets aside the self for the sake of another. The path that treats a stranger as brother and sister. The path that gives what cannot be returned: tender love to the dying, faithful care to the troubled, friendship to the lonely.
This martyr’s path is holy. We tend to denigrate it. And the concept is often misused. But there is something sacred about those who sacrifice self for another, something that goes to the very heart of God. For God is love.