In order to love someone, we have to first know something about them and be attracted to them. But what about loving God?
Lots of us use the euphemism “I love it!” to describe that instantaneous moment when we recognize something we love—if it’s an inanimate object. It could be pizza, a dress, a book, a movie, a car, a house, or anything else tangible. Things seem easy to love—people, not so much.
Normally we reserve “I love you” in regards to people for moments of deep caring or genuine love. Saying “I love you” seems to be the epitome of human communication. The words themselves can mean a great deal to those waiting to hear them, such as a friend or a longtime companion.
Some studies and anecdotal evidence shows that men have a harder time expressing these three words then women do. Sometimes used lightly, sometimes with the utmost sincerity and conviction, “I love you” isn’t always a simple utterance. When we say those words, or hear them from someone else, we expect our listener to respect, cherish, and perhaps, ideally, reciprocate our sentiment.
So using the word ‘love’ to express our feelings toward someone runs the risk of rejection. As Sigmund Freud observed at the turn of the 20th century, we humans “are pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding.” We will say the words when there’s a chance of acceptance; we will not always say the words when we fear rejection.
So that raises a big question: How do we know God loves us, and how do we know he won’t reject us if we love Him?
The Baha’i teachings tell us that God’s love for us is a “living link” that unites God with humanity:
Know thou of a certainty that Love is the secret of God’s holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the divers elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 27.
But since, by every account throughout history, in every religion and most spiritual, ethical and human philosophies, it is impossible to know God directly, how do we really know He loves us?
That is where faith comes into play.
But it is not merely good enough to say “I believe,” because when the winds of trials and tribulations torment our bodies and minds, some often turn away from God or His messengers out of disillusionment or disappointment. This occurs frequently when life’s issues test us, or accidents befall us, or we are fired from our job, or the bank forecloses, or we can’t feed our family.
Faith—concrete, soul-stirring, life-changing faith—withstands tests and trials and maintains belief in God and his messengers. All religions urge us to remain strong and to “rely upon God, thy God and the Lord of thy forefathers,” in times of trials. Perhaps children’s songs express it in the simplest way:
Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
This favorite Bible school song is well known around the globe, in many languages. It tells of Jesus’ love for his followers, demonstrated through his life and words in the Gospels. Those books also describe the reciprocated love his Apostles had for him, enough to scatter and teach his word after his martyrdom, even to be killed in his name.
Abdu’l-Baha said God is love in a talk in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1912:
God is love; God seeketh fellowship, purity, sanctity and long-suffering; these are the attributes of Divinity. … Strive day and night that animosity and contention may pass away from the hearts of men, that all religions shall become reconciled and the nations love each other so that no racial, religious or political prejudice may remain and the world of humanity behold God as the beginning and end of all existence. God has created all, and all return to God. Therefore, love humanity with all your heart and soul. If you meet a poor man, assist him; if you see the sick, heal him; reassure the affrighted one, render the cowardly noble and courageous, educate the ignorant, associate with the stranger. Emulate God. Consider how kindly, how lovingly He deals with all, and follow His example. You must treat people in accordance with the divine precepts—in other words, treat them as kindly as God treats them, for this is the greatest attainment possible for the world of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 291.
All the prophets and messengers taught that God is love, and that God loves humankind. To believe that is a function of the heart, mind and soul.
If God is love, and He loves all His children, we only need to return that love to live happy, fruitful lives—regardless of what tests we encounter along our path to the next world.