St. Valentine’s Day wraps up symbols of love in shiny, red packages. Chocolates from special friends or spouses relay a rich sweetness. Flowers, luscious in beauty and fragrance, say, “You are special to me.” And words written on cards speak sentiments of deep love, commitment and appreciation. Thrilled, our hearts are atingle with delight.
Our sons, wondering when God will bring the right young women into their lives, often ask me what it feels like to fall in love. “It is a union of agony and exploding joy,” I answer. Shakespeare rightly called it “a madness most discreet.”
I cannot deny that love songs I heard and romantic stories I read or watched on TV as a young girl shaped my image, in part, of true love and marriage. But now I realize how weak those portraits proved to be. They are as unworthy as the flower, chocolate, and card symbols—when compared to those of Calvary love.
What symbols has God used to show His kind of love? They differ radically from those of St. Valentine’s Day. His symbols are often difficult to contemplate, ones that relate to excruciating pain and sacrifice. The cross stands high on the list—the rough wood upon which Jesus, the Lover of our souls, proved His devotion to us. Then the scars on His head, His hands, His feet etch into our minds the price He paid to free us from sin and death. We gaze at the piercing, yet tender look of the Altogether Lovely One as He hung between earth and heaven. It draws us to Him and away from what the hymn calls “the best bliss that earth imparts.” Catherine of Siena (1347–80), contemplating such overwhelming signs of God’s commitment, prayed, “Dear Lord, it seems that you are so madly in love with your creatures that you could not live without us.”
Another symbol of God’s love for us is His gift of the Scriptures—not a short card or letter written in haste, but pages and pages of powerful, encouraging words for us to ponder daily … forever. God’s Holy Spirit whispers and repeats His love to us every time we read them. Saint Augustine (354–430) wrote about Scripture, “Wonderful is the depth of thy words, whose surface is before us, gently leading on the little ones; and yet a wonderful deepness, O my God, a wonderful deepness. It is awe to look into it; even an awfulness of honor, and a trembling of love” (Confessions, chapter XIV, 17).
Chocolates, flowers and love notes may make us tingle with joy. But when I contemplate the extent to which my Savior went to prove His everlasting love, allowing Himself to be nailed to a tree, I, along with Augustine, can only tremble, tremble, tremble.