“God was made man…If I could love a leper’s sores, couldn’t I love the boringness of Henry? But I’d turn from the leper if he were here, I suppose…I want the dramatic always. I imagine I’m ready for the pain of Your nails, and I can’t stand twenty-four hours of maps and Michelin guides. Dear God, I’m no use…Clear me out of the way.” -Graham Greene, “The End of the Affair,” Book Three
This quote, from the incredible novel of Graham Greene, typifies for me the experience of God’s love in a way that is impossible to put correctly into words. Sarah Miles, the character speaking in that quote, is everything that many of us are: she’s a sinner, a sinner who is falling in love with the Lord and doing it while kicking and screaming and trying with all of her might not to. While this might not specifically be every one of our experiences in a direct way, it certainly is indirectly; no matter how much we want to love the Lord, no matter how clearly we have made a choice to follow Him, we still must battle in our own selves to actually give ourselves completely over to Him.
Isn’t this, then, the absurdity of the love that He has for us? He loves us – and it is a complete, total, incomprehensible love – despite the fact that we are unable to reciprocate that love in the way that His love demands. The Creator of the whole universe spoke us into existence and loves us with every moment, yet we spend much of that time fighting back, flailing away from His grip of love and choosing ourselves over Him repeatedly. The brilliance of Divine Love is precisely that, no matter we do, He loves us. No matter how far we fall, no matter what choices we make, no matter how often we rebel our God will forgive us and accept us, allowing us to come back into His arms like only a perfect Father can.
Isn’t that, then, quite absurd? A Perfect Lover chooses in every moment to love His beloved perfectly, and when the beloved doesn’t reciprocate that love, the Lover still loves all the more. What a God we have, my dear friends, what a loving, incredible, God we have.
This is the reality that the characters in Greene’s novel so openly struggle with: I want something that God doesn’t want me to have, and He loves me whether I choose Him or the other. That other, which for each of us takes such different forms, calls out to us from the world, appearing to offer something that we don’t have. Through it all, though, the Voice of Love calls us back to Him, knowing that so often, even when we say we are ready to respond to that Voice, we will ignore it; nevertheless, He continues to call.
So often I imagine – as I’m sure many of you might, and as Sarah Miles said in that quote above – that I can do incredible things through love, things like Saint Francis of Assisi did when he loved the leper with His sores. I imagine I am ready to imitate this, and yet I struggle to love the boringness or simple personality quirks of those closest to me. And yet, as I am learning and believe we all must continue to learn, the mercy and tenderness of our God draw near to me even in those moments when I choose not to love the other, for He loves with a love that I cannot even begin to fathom or truly approach.
In these moments, you and I must come back to this reality of the man on the cross, joining Sarah Miles and all sinners to understand that “love extends itself all the time,” and that we must look no further than the cross to see the beauty of what extended love can really look like.