There are several places in the New Testament where we are given an insight into what it means to experience God’s love genuinely. One of the most helpful is found in Romans where Paul, rounding off his exposition of God’s justifying grace and how it leads to ‘hope’ says, ‘and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’ (Ro 5.5).
The concept of love has been cheapened beyond words over the past half century and longer. This is not only true in the secular realm, but sadly also for Christians. In all kinds of ways, the church’s view of love – reflected in song and sermon alike – owes more to the culture of our time than to the Bible.
This is perhaps especially true when it comes to understanding what it means to experience the love of God. Although we can speak about seeing God’s love in action on different planes – his love for creation, his love displayed in redemption and the love that defines him as Trinity – when it comes to understanding what it means to actually experience his love ourselves, we are in very different territory.
Too often Christians and the church at large have approached this either mystically or emotionally, or a combination of both. By doing so, they simply betray the extent to which their view of love is nothing more than a Christianised version of what prevails in today’s culture. That is, it is so focused on feelings that it fails to appreciate that how we ‘feel’ is nothing more than a reflex action to a whole range of factors – some good, but many which are bad.
At the crassest level, too many Christians embrace a notion of love that is little more than a spiritual equivalent of teenage romance. So, when they sing a song or discover something new about Jesus, God, the Spirit or the faith that stirs their emotions (usually in some kind of charged atmosphere) they see this as experiencing God’s love. But is this really the case?