Tokens of Love

Creation can teach us about God's love, and good works of love.

God is Good (7)

“Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Acts 14.17

The Mourners

The tragedy of death does not escape
the beasts. This morning, near the stream that flows
this time of year, a neighbor’s cow the throes
of death endured, succumbing to her fate
while giving birth. Her calf, still wrapped within
the birth sac, never drew first breath, but lay
beside its wasted mother as the day
broke clear and warm. To the onlooking crows’ chagrin,
the farmer came, and with his back hoe laid
the stricken mother and her still-born seed
beneath the earth. No grieving, and no need
for ceremony; no respects were paid.
    This afternoon three somber mourners made
    their way to paw the ground where they were laid.[1]

Do creatures love?
I’m sure I will never forget that tragedy as it unfolded one spring day in the meadow just south of our home in West Virginia. I relive it every time I see a bird feeding its frantic fledgling at one of our feeders, or watch a grass spider gathering up its egg sac and scurrying away from my hoe.

Do animals have emotions? Do they feel love? And if so, do other elements of creation feel love?

I’m not sure those are the right questions. What, after all, is love? The love that God embodies is self-denying, giving, and even sacrificial. God is not captive to emotions, so that He’s led around by feelings like we tend to be. His affections are always what they should be, and, as important, His actions are always in line with His affections.

I don’t know if a grass spider feels love for its unborn offspring, or if a mother bird finds that furious flapping and pleading amusing or lovable. But their actions speak of what love does, and if the only love we ever experience is what we feel, then we need to look to creation to show us what love looks like as it acts.

Witnesses to divine love
I’m convinced that at least certain of God’s creatures, other than humans, have feelings of all kinds, including feelings of love. But many aspects of creation bear witness to God’s love, and can thus teach us how to do good works of love for others.

I doubt that the people of Lycaonia ever thought about their annual harvest as a token of God’s love. Certainly they regarded it as good, but probably only in the sense that the grain they sowed, tended, and harvested each year meant they would have food on the table. That was good.

Paul saw the workings of creation in a different light. God, he told the Lycaonians, did good to them by so managing the order, harmony, and creativity of the cosmos as to cause their grain to flourish and their pantries to bulge. And He did this, Paul knew, because He loved them.

The fields and rains obviously don’t feel love. But they express love, God’s love, and we can learn from these and many other components of creation what love looks like when it is being expressed. Love is patient, kind, generous, self-giving, consistent, determined, and more.

The creation affords many opportunities for us to study the workings of love, and to improve our ability to love the way God loves, and thus to fulfill our calling as His image-bearers.

Love and affection
But human beings, like many other creatures, can actually feel love, and, while feeling love is not essential to loving someone, it can be an important impetus to love, and can make our loving actions more enjoyable for us and effective in touching the people around us.

Those cows, pawing at that freshly-dug grave, were mourning. I’m convinced they loved their departed friend and her calf, and that somehow, in working out their grief, they were expressing their love.

The creation groans under the burden of sin. It is “bleared” and “smeared” (Hopkins) by the thoughtless ways humans scorn God’s love, by taking His creation for granted or trampling it under foot. The unfailing beauty and fecundity of creation, despite its deep and pervasive groaning, bears witness to the God Whose love never fails, just as Jesus, groaning from the cross, declared and fulfilled the Father’s love for lost sinners such as we.

We should groan and mourn with creation as it endures the consequences of our sins; but we should also learn from God’s works in creation, what love looks like, and how, by loving like God does through creation, we can bring His goodness to light in the land of the living.

For reflection
1.  Can you think of some ways creation teaches us about the love of God?

2.  Do you agree that studying creation, or at least observing it more carefully, is a good way to learn about how to love? Explain.

3.  What can you see of God’s love in His works of creation immediately within your sight at this time?

Next steps – Transformation: Be alert to the opportunities for learning about God’s love from the creation, and give Him thanks for each instance you observe.

T. M. Moore

A free PDF download of this week’s study is available by clicking here.
What are you doing at 8:18 am? If you’re with Bruce Van Patter, you’re observing the goodness of God in your immediate surroundings. Take a look at Bruce’s column, and let your world come alive with goodness (click here). You can subscribe to receive 8:18 as often as it comes out, right on your desktop.

Our book, Consider the Lilies, can help you learn how to appreciate the infinite creativity of creation. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1]From Fault Lines. To order, click here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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