This is a guest post from George Iskaros, who has guest posted on this blog before. George is a recent graduate from Rutgers Business School who now works as a financial analyst and is also a proud member of St. George & St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church in Jersey City. If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
God is love! The elementary school answer that I admittedly used well beyond elementary school. But hey, in my defense, the older I grew and the harder I tried to understand Christianity, the more I realized this simple statement carried heavier weight than it seems at first sight.
The Lesson: GOD LOVES YOU
God’s love is perfect… and there are three reasons why: He is omniscient (all-knowing), He is omnibenevolent (all-loving) and He is omnipotent (all-powerful). Because He is omniscient, He always knows what’s best for us. Because He is omnibenevolent, His will is always what is best for us. And because He is omnipotent, He has complete authority and sovereignty to act on His will.
The epitome of His perfect love is personified through the life of Christ— and actually the very reason He took flesh: to save us.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)
God was in Heaven, enjoying all the praise, all the glory and all the worship. Then in a blink of an eye, He was incarnate and took flesh. He went from sitting on the throne surrounded by His angels to laying in a manger surrounded by smelly animals. He went from the glory of a king to the humbleness of an average Joe. He went from hearing the incessant praises coming from the mouths of angels to feeling the scornful spit on His face coming from the mouths of men. He went from having the multitudes of heavenly creatures worshiping Him all day and all night to being scourged, whipped and ultimately killed on a wooden cross like a guilty criminal.
Why would any rational being do such a thing?! It just doesn’t make sense...
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Jesus gave it all up in a blink of an eye to establish the story of salvation. He wanted us to reap the rich reward of Heaven and live with Him, even though we were rightly poor and condemned to death. He loved us that much... each and every single one of us.
“God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
While we were still weak, ignorant and helpless, while we were all sinners condemned to death, while humanity had no hope—Jesus offered Himself as a worthy sacrifice and gave us the promise of eternal life with Him. That in and of itself is beyond our comprehension of love.
But wait, there’s more...
“[Jesus Christ] who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7).
Ok, we already established He loves us A LOT in order to do what He did, but Philippians 2:6-7 makes it seem like that decision was just instinct— like there was no internal deliberation involved, like God didn’t think twice about it, like it was such a logical choice. Christ didn’t consider Himself, as God, giving up all the glory in Heaven and becoming a man, just like you and I, robbery. He didn’t think it was a bad deal. He didn’t think He was getting scammed. It was just “God-nature” to do it because His perfect love superseded all the suffering and ultimately the death He would endure for us.
How then would you describe God? Well I’ll give you the short answer— God is love.
The Homework: LOVE ONE ANOTHER
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:9-11).
Accordingly, love is one of the biggest pillars of our faith. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, He answered,
“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 29-31).
That message was further reinforced when Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Jesus is basically telling us that the second greatest commandment, after loving God, and the biggest criteria to be considered His disciple is to show and express love to others. He then took it a step further as mentioned in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”
What does mercy mean? After all, we say it so many times during Liturgy, right? Mercy is love set in motion; mercy is love expressed in action.
So when we say “Lord have mercy” in all of our prayers—we aren’t just begging God to forgive our sins—that is the pessimistic viewpoint. With God, there is optimism and hope, so when we say “Lord have mercy,” we are asking God to act based on His love for us as He did by establishing the story of salvation.
God’s mercy in bearing our sufferings upon Himself in order to grant us His Kingdom set us free from the captivity of death with the hope of eternal life through Him; so during Good Friday, on the very day we remember this ultimate act of love, we further emphasize our petition with the 400 "Kyrie Eleisons." And we continually ask God to have mercy on us in our daily lives as He did 2,000 odd years ago— and the same way we ought to exhibit mercy towards our fellow brothers and sisters by expressing our love through action because:
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Doesn't sound elementary-level anymore, right???