We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4, 19
“One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.
At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: ‘Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?’
The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, ‘My friend, it is the nature of the scorpion to sting. It is my nature to love. Why should I give up my nature to love just because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting?'”1
God commands us to love each other. However, this does not mean that he directly commanded us. God commanded us to love by making us first experience how does it feel to be loved. God’s example of loving us not only hopes but also gives us a command that will also move us to love others. We love because we experienced being loved. When we felt loved we cannot but love back regardless of how short or big it may seem from the love offered by the other. “Love is not known in the first place by our having loved God; rather, love is known by God’s having loved us.”2
From this viewpoint, one cannot deny the fact that the act of loving is a response to the love that moves or empowers the person to love. “God loves us, and it is the very love of God that empowers us to love. For love is enabling power, and those who have known themselves loved by God are empowered to love. Love – being loved and knowing that one is loved – empowers us to love.”3
However, let it be clear that all acts of loving are not just only responses to the love God had shown us first, but also and more importantly that loving is itself the very essence of God. “Love not only comes from God as from a source, it is itself the very essence of God.”4 And that the demand of love from the believer “is grounded in the nature and being of God himself as love and the source of all love.”5
Indeed, it is God’s nature to love. He is not influenced by anything outside of himself. His is pure love regardless of who the beloved is and what the beloved looks like.
God is manifested through our love for each other. “While no one has ever beheld God, the sure sign of God’s continued dwelling among us is our love for one another. God’s love for us does not depend on our love. Rather, divine love, matures among Christians by their love for one another.”6
Thus, loving God does not simply mean attending mass every Sunday or giving money to the collection box. It’s more than that. “We cannot claim a personal faith that involves only our relationship to God. God’s love will not tolerate such limits. Only those who give themselves for the well being of others can claim to love God.”7
The whole context of the passage quoted from the First Letter of John shows that such love is explicitly demanded. “The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor or hate him altogether. St. John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”8
In the anecdote I quoted above, true indeed, why would one give up his nature to love just because of other else’s nature? God is always like that – He never ceases to love even if we continue to reject his love over and over again. He remains loving despite our misgivings and infidelities. He keeps on forgiving us no matter how many times we have turned our backs from him. He constantly dies in loving just for us to have life over and over again. This is the love that compels one to love in return through other people, especially to those who were loved less.
Who then is he not to love in return after realizing how good and loving this God is? Who can resist a loving God whose only weapon is to love unceasingly? The God whom I wrestled with is the same God who loves and embraces me. The more I wrestled with Him, the more He lets me feel His unfailing love. I have experienced this God during the long retreat.
This is God’s love. It is always abundant. He is always abundant.
JULIUS HABANA (san jose seminary)
2 The New Interpreter’s Bible. Volume XII. p.430.
3 Thompson, 1-3 John, p. 129.
4 Brown, et al., The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 411.
5 Smalley, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 51, 1,2,3 John, p. 237.
6 The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII, p. 430.
7 Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John, p. 271.
8 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, Origins 35(33): F2 2006, p. 547.