I do know that she has spent her entire adult life in a desperate quest for all-out, unequivocal, absolute and unshakable love. She hasn’t found it through multiple marriages, motherhood or grandmotherhood. Nor has she been able to find it in a steady procession of girlfriends, boyfriends and one-night stands.
She has glimpsed it over the years in her cats, she has said, admitting reluctantly that their love is not exactly unconditional. She would have come closer by getting herself a dog. But she doesn’t like dogs. Too dirty. Too much work. Too demanding.
She took her search to a Bible church for a while right after 9/11. Not to worship God or learn more about Him, she pointed out at the time, but to find some new friends among these allegedly unselfish people.
Alas, she didn’t like anyone she met there because they only wanted to talk about Jesus and the Bible. And we all know what that means:
The irony is that the object of her quest has been sitting right there in front of her all along. She has simply refused to acknowledge it.
I have tried to explain it to her in different ways – most recently, two weeks ago in a little yuppie coffee shop near the zoo.
There are at least four Greek words for love, I pointed out this time, with agape being the one she is seeking. It is God's love -- unconditional, sacrificial, a reflection of the fact that He IS love (1 John 4:16). He is the only one capable of providing it, I said. And He has done so, by:
- Paying for mankind’s sins on the cross, so that anyone who repents and trusts in Him will be redeemed to live with Him in heaven for all eternity
- Sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of His children, in order to transform, comfort, and lead us in the way of all truth (John 16:13)
- Providing us with His inerrant, inspired word to help the redeemed live and thrive in His love no matter how dire their circumstances may be
My friend was silent until she heard my last point. “What nonsense,” she said then. “The Bible is just a bunch of writings by dead men.” (Emphasis on the word “men.” She is an unapologetic feminist.)
I tried to explain that the Bible is a love letter from Him to us, the means by which He tells us who He is and who we are. It is, I added, the door to eternal life in heaven with Him, because Peter said we are born again through the Word. "And after all," I added, "Jesus said that unless we are born again, we cannot see the kingdom of God."
She rolled her eyes. "There are many different interpretations of that idea."
"The Bible tells us what it means," I said. "Do you want to know what it says?"
Her face was getting red. Okay, so she wasn’t interested. She wanted me to shut up.
Got it. I bit my tongue for all of 20 seconds.
But then I couldn’t help myself. “What about those beloved grandchildren of yours?” I asked. “Will they be fine just as long as they believe what you believe?”
“Yes,” she hissed in a feline-esque warning for me to back off.
“Is that so?” I said a quick, silent prayer for her and felt my own rising irritation dissipate. “How do you know? What is your source of authority?”
It was too much for her. “I have to go,” she said, grabbing her things and storming out the door.
She left without paying for her coffee. And without letting me get to my point. My fault – I’d let myself charge down a rabbit trail again.
What I picture myself saying to her is this: “There is a source of unconditional love in this world. It is highly imperfect, inconsistent, subject to sin. But it exists nevertheless.”
“What is it?” she always asks eagerly in my fantasy about this conversation.
“Chances are you've come face to face with it many times,” I reply, “in the hearts of born-again believers – including, perhaps, those you met at church so many years ago. I know you didn’t like them, but maybe you could give them another chance. Their passion for Jesus and the Bible makes them the very people who are most capable of giving you agape love.”
(I think, but do not say, "And maybe what they have would rub off on you.")
Sadly, this particular fantasy never ends well. She always gets mad at this point and leaves in a huff.
“Stop!” I call out to her. “Can’t you see that you're cutting yourself off from the very thing you seek?”
But she’s just not ready to listen. She may never be. And what an eternal tragedy that would be.