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Surrender as the path to love

Tuesday, 13 April 2021  | Nils von Kalm

There has probably been more written about love in human history than anything else.

The question of what love is has fascinated everyone, from songwriters to poets to the ordinary person in your neighbourhood. We say we love this or we love that; we love our football team, we love our partner, we love God.

Love is shown by its actions. If we say we love something but don't show it in our actions, we are a liar, according to the first letter of John. Our lives cannot but reveal who and what we love. I don't know about you, but that is a challenge and it makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel exposed. I have nowhere to run, unless I am very good at hiding my true self from others. But then I am just running from and deceiving myself.

What is love anyway? Is it just a feeling that springs up from a reaction of chemicals inside our bodies when we encounter a particular someone or something? If we take a purely materialistic outlook on life, then love is ultimately meaningless and just something that makes us feel good for a while.

What if that old favourite verse of evangelicals, John 3:16, is true: that God loved the world so much that he gave? The late, great Ross Langmead sings a song that simply says that God is love and love is giving.

The cry of the human heart is that we need to love and to know that we are loved. Otherwise, as John Mellencamp sang many years ago, ‘without hope, without love, you got nothing but pain; just makes a man not give a damn’. From the moment we are born, the human cry is for love.

But how do we do it? Where does it come from? Many self-help books and gurus will tell us that it comes from within, that you are inherently worthy and you just need to believe it. I agree with that, but without a religious framework to guide us in how to live, it is still just a personal belief. It can and certainly does help, but it still doesn't touch something deep inside of us that needs to know that our sense of self-worth is actually based on something real and outside of ourselves.

‘We love because he first loved us’, says 1 John 4:19. If any one verse sums up the Gospel for me, that would be it. Real self-love comes from an inner conviction that there is a Being outside of and greater than ourselves who loves us completely and unconditionally. It is from that place that self-love is born and can flourish. And the great paradox of the Christian message is that when we are in that place of knowing that we are loved regardless, we are free to love others without fear and without trying to gain for ourselves. We don't love to gain fulfillment; we love out of a sense of fulfillment. We don't need to go and do things for ourselves to increase our self-image. We need to believe that we are already loved by a God who is love personified.

This is where the path of surrender leads us deeper into spiritual growth. When we catch that first glimpse into the fact that we are loved, when we have had a taste, we want more. Our trust in the God of love deepens, and we feel free to take those first faltering steps of surrender, until we can trust enough to completely surrender to the One who still loves us despite our broken efforts.

The path of surrender as the way to self-love is completely counter to the message of the culture in which we live in the West. It asks us to trust something, Someone, outside of ourselves, in a culture that has grown in distrust in the last couple of decades. The level of distrust and fear between different ideologies, between men and women (especially in recent times in Australia with the seemingly never-ending revelations of shocking sexual assault perpetrated by the powerful over those with less power), is profoundly tragic.

When I was growing up in the church, we used to sing a song called 'Spirit of the Living God'. The chorus says, ‘Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me’. I wonder how many of us realised at the time just how counter-cultural that song is. Firstly, it is a song of surrender. It is a song that asks the Spirit of God to change us. It is also a song of humility; it recognises that we cannot bring inner change on our own. And it is a song that recognises that we need the Spirit to fall upon us regularly - 'afresh'.

Imagine living in a society where we want to be broken. That doesn't go down well when the self-help gurus convince us that there is nothing wrong with us. There is of course truth in their point - there is nothing wrong with us in the sense that we are deeply and unconditionally loved and that nothing can take that away from us, we are indeed loved just as we are, and it is crucial for us to believe that. However, we also need to acknowledge that God loves us too much to leave us there.

In a world that says you are enough but doesn't give you a reason to believe it, the Christian message says you are enough because God is enough. More than ever now our culture needs to know surrender. It needs to know that healing comes through knowing we are loved regardless. Mother Theresa, that great humanitarian who gave her life to looking after the destitute, said the greatest need in the world is not food or clothes but love. And John Smith said many years ago that knowing we are forgiven for what we have done provides greater healing than any social welfare theory.

Surrender as the path to life. It sounds ridiculous and seems to go against common sense. But the Gospel is not about common sense; it calls us to Someone beyond ourselves, Someone to whom we can surrender completely and utterly, and so gain the life we have always been looking for.


Nils von Kalm is a freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. He has a passion for showing how the Gospel is relevant to every aspect of life. He can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/nils.vonkalm and at https://nvonkalm.com.

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