I write this in the hope that if she were living today she would find the God who is love reigning at the 219th General Assembly.
The theme that God is love is found throughout Scripture. The Old Testament is in part the story of God’s love for the Israelites — tough love at times, as when the Israelites had to wander in the desert for forty years. There was also passionate love, as expressed in the Song of Songs; hurt love, as shown in Hosea. But many Scripture references, especially the Psalms, always affirmed steadfast and faithful love.
The ministry of Jesus was filled with compassion for the people he was with, as well as anger against those who failed in love by exploiting or mistreating others. The Concise Concordance to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible lists 570 occurrences of “love” in Scripture.
Many contentious issues are due to come before the General Assembly. Commissioners will disagree, at times passionately, all convinced that they have Scriptural authority for their opinions. In all of this we believe that the Holy Spirit will be active, and that if commissioners are open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance then God will be in the final outcome. But shall we see God who is love during and after the debates?
In contemporary society, it has become common to demonize those with whom we disagree. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us not to judge others, lest we ourselves be judged. First John 1:8 reminds us that none of us is free from sin, while 1 John 2:11 tells us, But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness. We may not all agree at General Assembly, but we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul speaks prophetically to us in 1 Cor. 13. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Speech without love is but sound and fury with no value. Paul goes on to describe the attributes of love: patience, kindness, lack of envy, not boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not demand its own way, and does not get miffed or resentful when frustrated. Even though Paul writes in 1 Cor. 13:6 that love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth, this does not excuse us from loving our fellow commissioners even when we think they are wrong.
None of us can claim perfect understanding of Scripture or of God’s will. However wise and knowledgeable we may be, if we fail to respect and love those who disagree with us we count for nothing: And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2).
Jesus told his disciples, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34, 35). I pray that everyone watching us at the General Assembly will see that, despite our differences, we are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.
DEREK L. PURSEY is an Elder Commissioner to the 219th General Assembly. He is a member of Westminster Church in Dubuque, Iowa.