as we are by material comforts, comforts which breed spiritual complacency, we
stand in constant need of the fear of God and His judgment, The thought of
everlasting punishment, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not
quenched, can be very effective in preventing us from marching into some
deadly sin. If, however, we dwell upon our wretchedness, upon the fact that with
our "Polluted souls" and "abominable hearts" we
"deserve condemnation and every torment," upon Scripture's many
exhortations and warnings about being left outside the bridal chamber, or turned
away for lack of a wedding garment, as part of a wicked and adulterous
generation, we can easily fall into despair. Spiritual life requires careful
balance. Elder Silouan of Mt. Athos counsels: "Keep your mind in hell--and
despair., not." How is this possible? The key here is God's love.
"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”. This familiar Protestant Sunday-school song offers a comforting contrast to the old days of hellfire and brimstone. Unfortunately, the message has been commercialized to the point of dangerous self-assurance. Yellow stickers with "Smile, Jesus loves you," are everywhere, reflecting today's all too casual attitude towards what should be approached with fear and trembling. In the words of St. Maximus the Confessor, fear is necessary here, "lest the daring of love lead to disrespect of God." It may be for this reason that pastoral teaching in the Orthodox Church tends to stress the need for repentance, leaving God's love as understood and therefore largely unspoken. Nevertheless, we would do well to contemplate God's love, else we shall be as slaves---motivated by fear of punishment, or as hired servants--motivated by anticipation of reward, when we are called to be sons--motivated by love, for love begets love.
The testimony of God's love is everywhere. It is supremely expressed in Scripture: God is Love. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us (I John 4:10). I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor...height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). In the services we read constantly of the "man-befriending God," He who "loves mankind." The endurance of the martyrs, the fortitude of the desert-dwellers, the joyful carrying of the cross--are rooted in a certainty of God's love. Before our eyes, accessible to our senses, the beauty of God's creation speaks to us of His love.
What can be said about God's love, a love which surpasseth understanding?
Our own love is shallow, frail, often conditional, fickle... It is impossible
for us to fathom Perfect Love which "loves all men equally", not as
some amorphous humanity, but as individuals. "The goodness of God,"
writes Fr. Michael Pomazansky, "extends not to some limited region in the
world, which is characteristic of love in limited beings, but the whole world
and all the beings that exist in it. lie is lovingly concerned over the life and
needs of each creature, no matter how small and, it might seem to us,
insignificant'' (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology). The saints and Holy Fathers knew
well God's love and attempted to convey it to us who lack their keen spiritual
perception. St. John Chrysostom assures us that "God loves us more than a
father or a mother or a friend, or anyone else can love, and even more than we
can love ourselves, because He is concerned more for our salvation than even for
His own glory. A testimony of this is the fact that He sent into the world for
suffering and death (in human flesh) His Only-begotten Son, solely in order to
reveal to us the path of salvation and eternal life." In the words of St.
John Cassian, "God loved us first and this was for no other reason than
that we should be saved and so we ought to love Him solely for His love of us.
For this reason we should strive to rise from fear to hope and from hope to
love." And St. Seraphim, who himself possessed such an abundance of God's
love, said: "God shows His love for mankind not only when we do good, but
also when we offend and displease Him. How patiently He endures our
transgressions; and when He chastises, how mercifully He chastises!'' If we are
still in doubt, let us be persuaded by the righteous Elder Silouan of Mt. Athos:
'The Lord loves us more dearly than we can love ourselves; but the soul in her distress supposes that the Lord is forgetful of her, that He even has no wish to look upon her, and she suffers and pines.
"But it is not so, brethren. The Lord loves us without end, and gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit, and comforts us. It is not the Lord's desire that the soul should be despondent and in doubt concerning her salvation. Believe and be sure that we continue in suffering only until we have humbled ourselves; but so soon as we humble ourselves there is an end to affliction, for the Spirit of God discloses to the soul, because of her humility, that she is saved...
"O brethren, I beg and pray you in the name of God's compassion,
believe in the Gospels and in the witness of the holy Church, and you will,
while still here on earth, savor the blessedness of paradise. For the Kingdom of
God is within us; with the love of God the soul knows paradise."
(Wisdom From Mt. Athos)
One must unceasingly keep in remembrance God's love toward us. --Elder Nazarius of Valaam
We fear committing ourselves entirely to the will of God. What if this should lead us into a situation we find burdensome or unpleasant? Indeed, this may well be the case, but it would only be for our eternal happiness. God's will, God's Providence is motivated solely by love. Our own love is so imperfect that we can scarcely comprehend a love so enduring, so steadfast, a love which suffers our infidelity and readily forgives.
Be meditating upon God's love for us, we gain confidence and concentration in prayer. What reason has the mind to wander in the presence of Perfect Love? We try to remind ourselves of God's presence, but how often do we grasp the fact that He wants to communicate with us, personally, that He desires our hearts?:
It is particularly important to speak about God's love to children. Not having experienced the bitterness of disillusionment, they are more receptive and in their tender hearts it can activate a strong faith.
As adults, we, too, should contemplate more often God's love for us, that our motives in thought, word and deed might also and always be love.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]