For the last two weeks I have been wrestling with this verse. It turns out this is the key verse for our Summer VBS, so I will be wrestling with it longer.
This is a daunting verse from Paul. When he says “to grasp” he is implying I am not capable of understanding the love of Christ. It makes me uncomfortable, because don’t each of us think we are pretty smart? He challenges me even more when he says “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.
They are all comparison statements, but he gives nothing to compare with. For some psalmists, God’s love is ‘towering like mountains or deep as the ocean, it extends through heaven…’ Then, why did Paul not use those comparisons he knew by heart?
I’m starting to think Paul is appealing to what kind of feelings and emotions it can give us.
How long is the love of Christ? He can’t be talking about distance. William Barclay says “in the length to which it would go, the love of Christ accepted even the cross.” It’s love for the ‘long haul’. Can we humans imagine a love like that without thinking about tiredness or boredom? How long does it take for a pandemic to go away? “How long would it take?” it’s a question that governs our lives.
How “wide”? Is it like the oceans or the deserts? With a vastness that minimize my human scale to nothing? That swallows me? It must be… this overwhelming love that can embrace and integrate me on it.
How “high”? Is it like the breathtaking, dizziness-causing height? A God that gives me his breath of life certainly owns my breath.
And then “deep”. “Deep” it’s a scary word. Deep oceans, deep caves. Deep is scary and suffocating. Barclay says that Jesus love “in its depth it descended to even death”… for us. Deep is scary. A place of raw truth where nothing can be hidden: our fears, our lies, our doubts, even there, Jesus meets us and loves us dearly.
Paul is right. It’s very hard to grasp. One can only wonder where this kind of love can be experienced in our human days? He also answers it, “with all the Lord’s holy people.”
We can find it in the church. A group of sinners that struggles to become better, Christ-like; that struggles to love to the standards Jesus taught. Any reasonable person would think that’s an impossible setting for such experience. But nothing is impossible for God and his grace. And yes, that’s exactly the place where you can find it.
“Jesus, I want your love. A love that won’t get tired or bored of me, that will overwhelm me to tears, that will take away my breath with miracles and signs, and will meet me in the deep, dark niches of my soul to wash away my fears and doubts. I thank you for the church, a place where I can see sinners turn into angels. Bless our church and all the lives you are touching and transforming through it. Amen.”
18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, (ESV)