There’s a line at the end of Les Misérables that states: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I write this as a new fiancé and can most whole-heartedly agree. In loving another human – whether that be a fiancé or spouse, a child, a friend, or simply someone in need – something transcendent takes place. Something unique to all other human experiences. Why is it that love takes precedence over annoyance, malice, pity, amicability, or mere compatibility? Love is the essence of the Gospel. Do not mishear me – the love of Jesus as presented in the Gospels is not some mushy hippy feel good feeling, or the trite distortion “love is love.” No, the love of Jesus is much more raw, much more holy, much more real, and much heavier than anything of those natures, there was something required to fulfill this love – an atonement that had to be given.
In the same way that Christ – who shed tears of agony and sweat tears of blood – did not spare anything for his bride, so love requires everything. There is no halfway love. No real halfway love anyway. It demands everything of us. “Nothing that has not died will rise again.” There is a reason Paul writes that in the end only love will remain. For what else could remain? The very nature of love is to die every day and rise again more pure and more firm. A love that does not die to self is no love at all. I remember one night, a particularly anxious, homesick, and sleepless one, that my fiancé drove to my apartment at midnight and continued to drive for one, two, and three hours. He drove, talked, and prayed reminding me of memories I do not recall of my parents driving me to sleep on I-91 until I fell asleep in my car-seat. He did not talk of his own lack of sleep, or that when he finally returned home, he only had a couple hours to rest before waking up again for work. He does not complain of his tedious job. I know that it is only for us and the life we’re planning that he works as often as he does.
He loves me well, regardless of if I am loving him well. In this he reminds me of his own words about the love of the Father. These I will never forget, nor the joyful laugh that came with them. It was another difficult evening, one where I was wrestling with my own lack of love for God, asking that silly question “What if I don’t love him enough?” Of course, in that moment, it did not feel silly. Rather than a sermon, or a Bible verse, or anything that would have true but unhelpful momentarily, he did the best thing he could and almost involuntarily. He laughed. It was a joyful laugh, one full of compassion. And after the laugh he asked me – “Shelby, don’t you understand that that’s the Gospel?” I could never love him enough, and as Justin is only a human, how much more could I never love the Father enough!
Yet neither casts me off – in my anxiousness, in my particularly peevish moments, in my indifference – both remain. If this human, this sweet boy who I will spend the rest of my earthly life with, can love me so unreservedly, then how much more does the cross say? Everyday I watch him die to himself, in the gas money he sacrifices (small as that may seem to some more well off than two college students), in his insistence on paying for my coffee, in his washing of my tired feet after a long shift, in his diligence to make time for me when he could be with others, in his patience to listen and to endure all the mood swings of mine in this odd season of life, in his forgiveness, in his constant reminders that he is not going to leave, and in his loyalty to the Gospel and how he shares it again and again with me – in words, in deeds, and in laughter.
Who am I to receive this kind of love from a boy that I met at summer camp? All that I did was sit and read a book and continue a conversation. Now, this boy will be my husband – a role where I will continue to watch him give of himself and die to himself again and again. As his bride I will have the privilege of calling this love mine. I pray for same steadfast kindness for I know the source of his.
“Nothing that has not died will rise again.” Perhaps Elizabeth Barrett Browning understood this when she wrote “I shall love thee better after death.” In the splendor of the greatest love, the one that died the sort of death none has the strength to take on themselves, how could we not love one another better? In that future marriage to the lamb, my love and his – while no longer in the context of our own marriage – will be perfect. The love of Jesus is perfect, and I am privileged to have glimpses of it every day.