Spiritual Life Week Speaker

For Christians, love is never far away: Bluffton speaker

BLUFFTON, Ohio—The Christian story isn’t about collecting the right set of beliefs, or obeying God’s “do’s and don’ts,” or trying to be a “good person,” an Oregon pastor told a Bluffton University audience March 18.

Instead, said Meghan Good, it has to do with turning around and seeing who’s always there.

“It’s the story of a God who isn’t begrudgingly merciful or benignly tolerant but who, from the very beginning, has been recklessly in love with humanity,” the pastor of Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church explained. “It’s the story of a God who loved us first, before we knew what it meant, before we wanted it, before we were even vaguely worthy of it.”

Comparing the story to Hosea’s love for Gomer in the Old Testament, Good, the guest speaker for Bluffton’s Spiritual Life Week, said she’s a Christian because it “explains our reality better than any other story I know.”

“Before we are anything as humans, we are looking to be loved” and, she added, “we were made to be loved. This isn’t a weakness but an actual mark of the image of God.”

“We look for a love that will delight in our best and not be frightened by our worst, that will never pretend or betray or disappoint or fade,” she continued. “And guess what? It’s already yours. That love you’ve been chasing your whole life has always been chasing you.”

Accepting this version of the Christian story begs a question of what the Christian life is about, Good said. In this case, she noted, the answer is that the Christian life is “a journey of learning to echo back just a fraction of God’s passion for us.” And that, in turn, means the “most foundational Christian question” is “what, or who, do you love,” according to the pastor.

“Great thinkers from St. Augustine to Dante have suggested that, at its core, the spiritual life is about ordering our desires … about learning to love the right things,” she said. Quoting Jesus’ greatest commandment—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”—she added that “the core of faith is about getting a hold of our love lives.”

“Anyone who’s tried to keep this command—which Jesus points out is the whole law in a sentence—for more than a millisecond is keenly aware: our love lives are seriously disordered,” Good said. “We’re good at loving a lot of things, ourselves usually chief among them, but we’re not particularly good at loving God back.”

“There’s a pervasive idea in our day that people can’t choose what we love,” she said. “Deeds we can control—maybe, sometimes—but desires move as they will. We can’t be held responsible for them any more than we could for our shoe size or our taste in food.”

“But I’d suggest that this idea that desire is totally unconditioned and completely unalterable is a significant error made by moderns who speak of love as something we ‘fall’ into, sort of like a giant, unforeseen pothole,” she maintained. “Of course desire is conditioned and significantly alterable—that is the entire premise on which a $36-billion-a-year online advertising industry is based.”

How does a person start to fall in love with God? “The first and most basic step in stirring desire is cultivating attention”—taking time, in this instance, to be in God’s presence and being with others who love him already, for example, Good said.

“As unromantic as it might sound, love and desire are deeply tied to habit,” she noted. “This is why Christian practices are so powerful.”

“Instead of doing what we desire, the truth of the matter is that we are actually most likely to start desiring what we do.”

Desire is also shaped by taking things away, the pastor said, citing fasting as an example. Calling it “basically a training exercise in desire,” she said fasting is a reminder “there is still more to hunger for.”

“One of the most important principles I’ve learned in my spiritual journey is that whenever desire stirs, that’s the time to feed it,” Good told her listeners. “When hunger stirs, that’s the moment God is waiting.”

“But don’t wait for the feeling to strike before you start to act,” she continued. “Any marriage counselor would tell you, act like you love, and love will eventually follow.”

“The God who loved you first is already behind you, heart in hand, calling your name, waiting for you to turn around. Don’t wait to fall in love; go and throw yourself into it. This is what the Christian life is about.”

Good, who holds a master of divinity degree from Duke Divinity School, has been pastor at Albany Mennonite since 2009. She participated in several activities during Bluffton’s Spiritual Life Week, whose theme was “Dwell, Delight, Desire—a 3D Journey with God,” based on Psalm 37:4.