Responding to the Heavenly Father’s Love

“Do you love me?” are the touching words Tevye sings to Golde, his faithful wife of 25 years, in the acclaimed musical Fiddler on the Roof. The musical’s universal appeal unfolds the deeper meaning of love through sacrifice, begging the question, “What is true love?” Following the custom of the time, Tevye and Golde’s parents had arranged for their marriage; however, their three older daughters, living in a radical new era, break tradition. They seek marriage with the intention of love. This sparks Tevye’s question, “Do you love me?” Although Golde thinks he must be upset or has indigestion, he persists, tenderly asking, “Do you love me?”

These are the same intimate words our Heavenly Father asks us every day. “Do you love me?” And how do we respond? Like Peter, do we adamantly, unreservedly insist, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you”(Revised Standard Version, John 21:15). Why do we respond to our Heavenly Father with the same answer Peter replied to Christ, our Lord? Because the Father and the Son are one. “that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father”(John 5:23). Do we know that our Heavenly Father loves us so lavishly “that we should be called children of God”(1 John 3:1) even though we are sinners (Romans 5:8). Do we recognize that he loves us so extravagantly that he sent his only son to redeem us (1 John 4: 9-10; John 3:16)? Not only did he do all that for us, but “he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Whether we recognize it or not, we are immersed in a wonderful love story.

Like Tevye, in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, Billy asks Julie, “How do you know what you’d do if you loved me?” and she sings, “If I loved you, time and again I would try to say all I’d want you to know.” What would we say or do to show that we love our Heavenly Father? In the Holy Bible,  our Heavenly Father lays out the blueprint on how we can express our love to him. If we truly love him, we will strive to keep his commandments. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments (1 John 5:3; 2 John 6). And where do we find our Heavenly Father’s commandments? In Exodus, 20: 2-17, we read, “‘I am the Lord your God, . . . “You shall have no other gods before me'” as well as the other commandments. The ten commandments can also be found in Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

Lest someone think the ten commandments are only in the Old Testament, there are references to them in the New Testament. In Matthew we read, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”(Matt 4:10; Luke 4:8). Similarly, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”(1 John 5:21).

These ten commandments are summarized in the two great commandments. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself'”(Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:27). John phrases it, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another”(John 13:34).

In order to love someone, we need to know that person. Do we really know our Heavenly Father? In our postmodern age of relativism, where people like to pick and choose their form of subjective reality, to them God may be a person, but he has abandoned us to our own self-interests; others may believe in God, but he is an indulgent Santa Claus, doting his extravagant gifts of love on us, as long as we live the Christian life in a particular way or else he will transform into a  cruel, capricious, vicious and vindictive tyrant; still others believe in a god, but he exists as one with the universe or within the created world. For them, he or even she is no longer a separate being let alone a person. Then there are those who believe in various other New Age versions of god. Of course, the subjective ideas of who God is are potentially as infinite as the number of people. But there is an objective reality because our Heavenly Father has revealed himself to us.

What has our Heavenly Father revealed about himself? Jesus calls him, “Abba! Father! (Mark 14:36). Jesus invites us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2). Incredibly, we too are asked to call him, “Abba! Father!” St. Paul says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'”(Galatians 4:6). And who is this Father? John patiently, yet tirelessly reminds us, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

How do we to respond to this immense ocean of our Heavenly Father’s love? Are we going to tell him “time and again” how much we love him? Are we going to spend time with him? When we are madly in love with someone, we anxiously await and guard our time together. Do we spend all of our time talking about ourselves or are we open to listening to him? How do we express our love to our Heavenly Father?  Think how precious it is to receive a love note from a young child, even though he or she may not spell the note correctly or form the letters properly. It is still a gift of love. Do we say with Blessed Mother Teresa, “When you know how much God is in love with you, then you can only live your life radiating that love.”

In Fiddler on the Roof, Golde replies to Tevye, “For twenty-five years, I’ve . . . . Can I change the words to express my love to my Heavenly Papa? ‘For (however many years) I’ve opened my heart, sought your will, shared your love, For (however many years) my soul is yours, if that’s not love, what is?'”

Photo by Mitya Ivanov on Unsplash

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Elizabeth Yank is a freelance writer who has been published in a number of Catholic publications, including Faith and Family, National Catholic Register, Lay Witness, and others.

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