red background with love in white lettering

Love at the Center

They say every entrepreneur should have an “elevator pitch” – a cogent distillation of all the research and planning that has gone into the new business that can be given in less time than an elevator ride.  And I fear that if someone were to ask me, during daylight hours, for a similar distillation of Christianity, I would fail miserably.  I’m terrible at short answers, and it’s likely that – without realizing it – I’d be reviewing the history of the Ancient Near East, paraphrasing Plato, quoting Augustine, and suggesting books by N.T. Wright (I would, of course, stop the elevator so I had time to explain the nuances!).

But, as I am writing this at 1:12 AM, I can answer in a word:  love.  For, when all is said and done, I have found no other explanation for the world as I know it – in all its beauty, complexity, pain, and hope – than the vision of love that I believe stands at the center of the biblical story.

And I realize, even as I write this, that it sounds tremendously naïve.  Read just the table of contents of any history textbook, and there appears evidence galore that love is hardly the name of the game.  And this is true even if it is a book on religious history…

Humans are capable of doing extraordinary harm to each other and to the world.  And on plenty of occasions, the perpetrators have claimed to act in the name of love and on behalf of God.

And even when there is no one to blame – when the floods rise, or the crops fail, or the diagnosis is given – it strikes us a convincing testimony that whatever is driving the course of history, it is certainly not love.

I further know, all too well, that there are many within the community of the church who would not agree that love is the center of the biblical story.  In my own, Calvinist tradition, the “glory” of God is often regarded as the driving force behind divine action and human responsibility (though love does, fortunately, get a pretty good mention).

Others see God as primarily concerned with sin and righteousness, goodness and badness.  The Bible is a legal work and a morality tale:  “Here is the law and the story of what happens to those who keep it and those who don’t…”

Wherever love is found in abundance, it will give forth life.  Love is not content with its present boundaries, but seeks to give itself away. And so, once upon a time, the sovereign God said, “Let there be…, and there was…and behold it was very good.”

Some see the gospel in pietistic terms – a guide to prayer and religious observance that evokes divine favor.  Pray well enough or study long enough or discipline strictly enough and perhaps one can escape the bonds of the flesh and live the life of pure spirit…

Quite popular today is Bible-as-Guide-to-Easier-Living.  God is thought to have written the definitive guide to losing weight, getting a promotion, retiring early and raising Ivy-League-bound children.  The list goes on…

And I think that, at one time or another, I have dabbled in most of these options.  But I have come to the personal conviction – which has held steady for a good many years – that the Bible is actually a love story – that the God it reveals and the world it regards as his, has love at the center.  Indeed my recovering-engineer-self can find no other way the math works.

It seems to me that the Bible tells the story of a loving God who created the world and all that is in it because that is the nature of genuine love – it is generative. Wherever love is found in abundance, it will give forth life.  Love is not content with its present boundaries, but seeks to give itself away. And so, once upon a time, the sovereign God said, “Let there be…, and there was…and behold it was very good.”

And what love seeks is…love.  And therefore, creation must be free.  For love is not love if it is compelled or coerced.  Therefore, the generative God, in love, gave creation – and humanity as its pinnacle – the dignity of self-determination.  We can love – God and other.  Or we can not.  And when the answer is “not,” what we call it is “evil.”  And thus all the world can be understood as the tension between love and its absence.

And from creation, the story goes on –  a loving God, confronted with the object of his love which has gone terribly awry.  And what the story tells is the work of a  God who does not reject a world that is pulling on the very threads out of which it was woven, but rather takes it upon himself to sew creation back together.  And thus, there are indeed floods and famines and war and pain…; but love is still at work, mending, weaving, knitting…  I go so far as to believe that Easter was, in fact, the definitive stitch.  On that day, the outcome was determined once for all – the cloth will one day be made entirely whole again.

All this is the only way I can explain the world as I know it.  I see the paintings of a Van Gogh, the statues of Michelangelo, hear the symphonies of Beethoven, read the poems of Langston Hughes, walk the beaches of the Caribbean, see my friends at the café, watch Michael Jordan play basketball…and what I think to myself is:  “Behold, it is very good…”

I have also been chaplain to the oncology service at Children’s Hospital, built houses for the poor in Guatemala, lived with destitute families in the inner city, played games with orphans in Africa… And I have had my bouts with despair at it all, I assure you.  But in every case, what I have seen is that love has been far from absent.  The bad, in my experience, is never as bad as the circumstances say it should be.  And hope is far closer than I can explain.  And, after all these years and all these experiences, the only answer that I’ve got is that someone has their thumb on the scale.  Someone is tipping things to the good.  Love is casting stitches…

I can, of course, prove none of this.  It is but one man’s opinion…  But it is a conviction firmly held. And it will drive everything I write from here on.

All the discussions of biblical study, all the reflections on theology, all the contemplation of ethics, all the suggestions at spiritual discipline derive from this one belief – that love is the name of the game….



  1. Holly
    December 21, 2009

    Good thought for the day you wrote: “Wherever love is found in abundance, it will give forth life.”

    Thanks for that.

  2. Craig
    December 23, 2009

    Very nice. You say you can’t prove this. In mathematics and logic, an unproved but evidently true statement is an axiom, and everything builds from the axioms. I think you have chosen your axiom with wisdom and inspiration.

    1. Kirk
      December 24, 2009

      Those are very encouraging words from a man of your mathematic credentials! Thanks, amigo. 🙂

  3. Herschel Matott
    January 10, 2010

    God bless you and yours! We are all lambs in his eyes and are shepherds to one another. Let’s keep living and loving the way He wanted for us.


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