Love Over Coffee

I went for a bike ride this morning and ended up sipping a hot cuppa in the corner of a delightful coffee shop. What a blessing to enjoy God’s goodness and beauty in the small things of life! Truly, he is everywhere if we would only look.

As I paged through the day’s paper my eyes fell on a quote by Albert Schweitzer: “Success does not lead to happiness, happiness leads to success.” How true.

It took me many years to discover that God’s perfection is best expressed in humanity’s contentment. (By the way, this has been a cornerstone of many Christians’ theological understanding long before John Piper was born, and you most certainly do not need to be a Calvinist to grasp it!) Our satisfaction testifies to the sufficiency of God’s grace, to put it differently. This means that Christians are meant to be truly happy people. It also means that if you are not truly happy, you are missing some pieces of your theological puzzle or its application to your life.

Perhaps a personal reference would be in order here. I came into this world with an inexplicable melancholia that ended up haunting me on a near daily basis. This continued for many years after my conversion. I eventually concluded (rather prideful, I should add), that the hollow emptiness at the core of my being was the downside of my artistic and bookish inclinations. And so I imagined myself as being in the same band as Hemmingway, Churchill and all the tortured poets who constantly had to fight their suicidal tendencies.

I was mistaken. My “impenetrable fog”, as Abe Lincoln used to refer to his depression, vanished when the sun of God’s love shone over it. And in its stead an indescribable joy bubbled up from deep within. I was no tortured genius. I was a poor lost soul who took way too long to grasp the central message of the Bible, namely that God loves me just as (JUST AS, get it?) he loves Christ. When that penny dropped my years of theological training, articles I had written, sermons I had preached and theological battles I had fought underwent a baptism of mammoth proportions. And what emerged was… new. Very new. In fact, so new that it appeared to be a different gospel to the one that I had been spreading for many years. Paul put it well: It all amounted to nothing because it was not based on love.

The man who writes these words is now a very, very happy man. I am indeed obsessed with the love of God. I sleep it, drink it, think it, talk it, preach it. This discovery has been my treasure in the field, and I gladly rid myself of everything in order to buy the field and unearth the treasure. And what a treasure it is! I have subsequently discovered that the two greatest motivators on planet earth, fear and fullness (or happiness, if you wish), are directly linked to the love of God, the former negatively and the latter positively. I have discovered even more, much more than I can ever share with words. This chest has no bottom. Truly, the love of God is beyond description. It is as infinite as God is infinite, for God is love. And if all else pass away, love will remain… and remain… and remain…

I dedicated my weekly newspaper column to this glorious truth. As it will only be out tomorrow, I cannot post it yet. But I will do so the moment it hits the streets.


7 thoughts on “Love Over Coffee

  1. Marinus Swanepoel July 7, 2018 / 9:00 pm

    Recently after reading your musings on righteousness and justness I couldn’t help thinking what other examples exist of words that that have their roots in a slightly different culture than I the one I am used to.

    And so I pretended to myself that the word narrow gate had nothing to with salvation. At least not in a simple heaven and hell context.

    I assumed for a moment that it simply had a temporal ‘here and now’ context.

    What I discovered was that love is just that. The justness of grace.

    One of the few things that always irritated me about your writings is that you blatantly refuse to lay down a path or rules or guidelines. All you do is ‘rave on’ about how wonderful it all is without explaining in the slightest (or so it seems to me) how to get on that path 🙂

    I now think that’s just it. The path is so narrow that it defies explanation. When you let the rules take the focus for too long then you loose sight of grace. And when grace is not tempered by the justice of love then it becomes something cheap.

    All you can do is strive.

    And so we do in everything that is important.

    In marriage we strive to accept each other as broken people while complaining all the while how much pain we cause each other 🙂

    Somewhere between “I love you – you are the best thing that has ever happened to me” and “would you please stop being such a bitch” is a path of life. Hidden and tucked away.

    I confess I have no idea how to find it. And yet I see it being revealed slowly and day by day

    And I have seen enough to insist that I am also happy to sell everything that I have and then some.

    Staying faithful is the biggest problem.

    Not only is the path narrow – the life it leads to is not always visible. And yet it is hidden in plain sight.

    Why so quiet on the posts?


    • Tobie July 8, 2018 / 7:13 am

      “When grace is not tempered by the justness of love it becomes something cheap.” That must be one of the most profound sentences I have ever heard. Thank you. Let me meditate on that for a while before I respond…

  2. Tobie July 8, 2018 / 8:21 am

    So this is where my meditation is taking me: Perhaps it is not a coincidence that you are having revolutionary thoughts wrt the narrow road whilst entertaining ideas about love and justice. It seems that there is a link between these concepts. Have you noticed that there exists a correlation between the amount of signs on a road and its width? The broader the road, the greater the regulation of its travellers, the stricter its policing, etc. (Think M1 over Jhb). It seems that the law is especially concerned with the broad road. On the other hand, the narrow road (e.g. scaling a solitary mountain path in the Himalayas) requires an inner navigational ability, what mountaineers and rock climbers have dubbed the intuition of “ distilled experience.” The regulation comes from within.

    Going for breakfast…

  3. Tobie July 9, 2018 / 1:03 pm

    So here’s the thing: The law exists to regulate the behaviour of people who are intrinsically unjust, which of course is all of us. There’s the highway with its signs, cops, penalties etc. The aim is to enforce the type of just behaviour that would under normal circumstances be the evidence of inherent justice, namely the “justness of love.” Which means legalism in any form is an embarrassing admission of the absence of love. Conversely, the presence of real love fulfills the law and renders it unnecessary and obsolete. Here’s the untraveled mountain path. It is restricted to those pilgrims who have mastered the art of progress without maps, guides and signs. I think the Christian life is like that. No one, but no one has faced or lived my life (or yours), shared my temperament, indulged in my greed and stupidity, applied my union with Christ to any situation, etc. etc. So this is unchartered territory, and it has to do with the justness of love in the life of Tobie. Amazingly, this justness is in me by virtue of Christ who is in me (his love poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit, as Romans puts it) and the great adventure is to locate and learn to draw from it. You can’t get much narrower than that.

  4. Tobie July 9, 2018 / 2:15 pm

    Interestingly, Calvinists do not believe in inherent justice, but in imputed justice. The term does not really work, as justice has to do with relational fairness, which sounds like works, and so it soon became imputed righteousness, which is code for acquittal. Hence the “vryspraak” in Afrikaans Bibles. This explains, I suspect, why the Reformers could expound the “doctrines of righteousness” with the right hand whilst drowning Anabaptists with the left. Righteousness had lost its relational dimension and became mere “justification.” Catholics and Wesleyans disagree, arguing that righteousness is not only a legal privilege (“just as if I had never sinned”) but an “infused” or “imparted” reality in the life of the believer. What interests me is how this fundamental theological difference has played out in the history of the movements. Catholics and Wesleyans are renowned for their social conscience. In SA they were the prophets against apartheid whilst Calvinists were the architects.

  5. Marinus Swanepoel July 11, 2018 / 10:18 pm

    Thanks for the detailed metaphor.

    It helps a lot.

    I am making peace with the fact that I am much more Wesleyan (and even Catholic) than I would freely care to admit.

    I mean I would never be able “to get Jesus physically” into that wafer and I am quite happy to call Mary a beloved sinner but even I cannot deny my growing discomfort with the lack of ‘imputableness’ that I find in real and tangible ‘Justness’.

    Something that the ‘Calvinist in me’ does find irresistible 🙂

    Best regards

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