Is it possible to fully understand the immensity of God’s love?
The Bible tells us repeatedly that God loves us and has given us plenty of evidence to back up his words. He created us. He created a marvelous world in which we are called to create. He provides for us. And he forgives us, even though we are rebellious. He even went so far as to send his Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for us while we were still sinners. God did it all because he loves us.
The Apostle Paul prayed that believers would comprehend the incomprehensible dimensions of the love of Christ, and that we would know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge.
It is a remarkably bold prayer:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, emphasis mine)
We Need Strength
Paul prayed for us to have strength to comprehend the love of Christ. That strikes me as unusual.
If I were to pray for someone to better know my love, I would ask for their eyes to be opened, or for a hidden depth of feeling to become realized, or for wisdom to be gained—but it wouldn’t occur to me to pray for strength to understand love.
The love of God must be in a different category from human love if we need strength to begin to understand it.
We Need Perspective
My daughter just had a baby. He is adorable, just like his two older brothers. She needs strength to heal, to get up at all hours of the night, to handle the older two, and to manage the household. The baby doesn’t need much strength to know that his mom, dad, and brothers love him. My daughter and her husband, on the other hand, need emotional and physical strength. Their love is far stronger than the baby’s.
Maybe when it comes to love, we’re a bit like babies. God has always loved us, and we simply do not understand what it has cost him. We read how much he loves us in the Bible, we experience his blessings, his provision, and even his discipline, and we do love him. But in comparison to his love for us, our love for God seems like a baby’s love for his mother.
A baby is simply not equipped to love the way his parents love him. Only as he grows in knowledge and strength will he begin to comprehend the love of his parents Jesus himself is the best teacher, and Paul was very well taught, so I have begun to pray Paul’s prayer and ask for strength to begin to comprehend God’s incomprehensible love. I can’t develop that kind of strength by myself.
We Need Other Believers
It’s easy to skip over the phrase “with all the saints” in that passage, but it is critical. No one person can fully understand the love of Christ through their limited experience. However, if we join with all believers, we will have a bigger and better picture of God’s love.
We need inner-strength for this. If we invest ourselves in the lives of others, we will rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. The rejoicing is easy; mourning is not. When you’re celebrating with a family member over good fortune, rejoice in the love of God. Conversely, when you are sitting with a friend who is mourning, look for expressions of the love of God. It may be more difficult to find, but it is always present. As we become familiar with other believer’s stories, we will see the faithful love of God in all circumstances.
From my little bubble in the northwest suburbs of Chicago I can’t imagine how God shows his love to a homeless person in San Francisco or to the very wealthy in New York City, but I’m sure he does. It is beyond my experience to know what the love of Christ looks like to people in other parts of the world, but I know his love is enough for everyone. Knowing the love of Christ is more than an intellectual exercise; it’s experiential. And our strength to comprehend it increases as we walk with other believers.
We Need Christ
Paul’s use of four dimensions to describe the love of Christ—breadth, length, height, and depth—suggests that his love is beyond description, that it’s multidimensional in expression. Commentator Matthew Henry describes these dimensions as signifying “the exceeding greatness of the love of Christ, the unsearchable riches of his love, which is higher than heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.”*
Comprehending the incomprehensible love of Christ comes from growing in knowledge and strength in him, and walking with others as they grow. Then we will be better able to fathom the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ.