John knew he was loved by other people. John knew he was loved by God.
Please read 1 John 4:7-12, 16
This is the God who loved Mary and Joseph. This is the God who loved the daughter of Jairus, the woman from Samaria and the man from the Gerasenes. The God who loved Judas, Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary, John, Nicodemus and Thomas. And, yes, Pontius Pilate too.
Agape. This is the God who loves you.
In the above passage from John’s first letter, in the Greek, the love that is talked about is agape love. We are to love, agape, one another. God’s love for us is agape love. Love that is perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure.
So, how do we really know we are loved by God?
We can trip the familiar words off the tongue, can’t we: ‘God is love’… ‘God so loved the world…’ ‘God showed his love for us in that while we still sinners Christ died for us’… ‘(nothing) can separate us from the love of God’. There are so many affirmations of the truth and what reassuring and comforting words they are.
It can often be easier to acknowledge God’s love for us when life is going well. Times when his love for us is tangibly demonstrated through answers to prayer, unexpected blessings, love from others – again, so many ways: and how reassuring and comforting they are too.
With practice, as we reflect on through Mary and Joseph and also Martha and Mary, we can see God’s love for us in all the ordinary things of life. Those moments of blessing. Those glimpses of glory. A sunset, a bunch of flowers, children playing, older people laughing, a dog running in to the sea. Those times when God says: ‘Look. That’s for you.’ When the peace of God passes all understanding.
But what was it like for John walking with the distressed and agitated Jesus to the Garden at Gethsemane (Mark 14:33)? And standing at the foot of the Cross helplessly watching the helpless Messiah whom he loved and who loved him. Standing alongside Jesus’ own mother and others contagiously grieving their own sorrow and distress (John 19:25b-27)?
While it may have been the case during the preceding three years and was definitely so later in John’s life, at this precise moment, standing at the foot of the cross, in the midst of the trauma and pain, there is no room or energy or desire to reflect on God loving him so much that he sent his son to die for him.
In the reality of our lives, how do we know we are loved by God, truly know, deep down inside, when life is tough and horrible?
Ah, if only there was a simple answer.
And there isn’t. And maybe accepting that fact is helpful in itself. Knowing God’s love and his presence in difficult times is in itself difficult.
The person you are is the person God loves and wants you to be. Think back to the first Easter morning and all that was encapsulated in that one word, that calling of a name: ‘Mary’. Jesus calls your name, for you are his, and that is who you are.
We, like Mary and like John can know the love of God simply through the calling of our name – and thankfully God’s love is much bigger than that too.
Returning to your lists from part 1, write down the ways in which you receive God’s agape love.