I was watching a Top of the Pops 1991 television programme* recently and they played Bryan Adams’s ballad Everything I do, I do it for you. The song spent 16 consecutive weeks at Number 1 in the UK chart, still the longest ever run. It’s a song I loved when it was released in 1991 and still love now.
As I listened to it again and watched the video, I wondered whether the lyrics inspired the subsequent power ballad sung by Meat Loaf: I would do anything for love… but I won’t do that (released in 1993).
(Spoiler alert: the ‘that’ refers to being unfaithful, but I can never quite work out how you would be unfaithful to someone because you love them so much that you would do anything for them).
Both songs suggest that true love motivates us to act selflessly for the benefit of the one we love. Meat Loaf’s song apparently puts limits on that (leading to the silly denouement) while Bryan Adams’s song climaxes with the promise that “I’d die for you…”
These are profound promises and reveal the power of love (cue another power ballad, sung by Jennifer Rush). Love is one of the most powerful motivating forces in human experience, isn’t it? It’s much longer lasting than guilt, more inspiring than a sense of duty and comes from a much deeper place than fear.
Of course as an ordained wearer of a dog collar (non-canine variety, and as a nonconformist, only on special occasions) you’d expect me to wax lyrical about God’s love for us, and quote John 3:16. And of course I wholeheartedly believe that this is true. But what I have observed is that it seems that Christians have sometimes portrayed God’s love as more like Meat Loaf than Bryan Adams.
What I mean is that sometimes the message churches have given about God’s love is that there are limits to it. There are some people who are excluded. I can already sense some of the Christians reading this drawing a deep breath ready to shout, “Surely not!” and others have fingers poised over their keyboards ready to denounce me, but before you do, please hear me out.
The first Church Meeting (Acts 15) was because some Christians were insisting that some people were excluded from the faith because they lacked the right heritage or did not follow the right rules (that meeting decided that this was wrong).
Some Christians actively endorsed (and profited from) the transatlantic slave trade and owning of slaves before abolition.
Some Christians actively supported ideologies that proclaimed that some people were subhuman (Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa).
Some Christians excluded women are from leadership or ministry in churches (but interestingly many have sent women as missionaries overseas to minister to others). Some still do.
Some Christians excluded people who are LGBT+ from their churches, or from full participation in them. Some still do.
And some who hold these views attack the integrity and validity of the faith of Christians who may be publicly more inclusive than they are (and I am bracing for impact myself after writing this).
You might say that some of these beliefs are not placing limits on God’s love but are examples of divine righteousness and purity. But it seems to me that God’s love always wins through – it’s God’s prime motivation because it’s God’s core essence. John 3:16 does not say that because God was righteous and pure that Jesus was sent… it was because God loved the world so much!
And you might say that this is not what people mean to say and that I am distorting what is actually being said. Perhaps. But my point is that regardless of what is being said, the message that is being received is that there is a limit on who God loves or how much he loves them.
I don’t deny that those who have held such views held them with conviction. However, in the gospels we see Jesus time and time again breaking through religious barriers to include in God’s Kingdom those whom people (who held those views with conviction) had excluded.
Were they placing limits on God’s love?
Did he need them to?
Did he want them to?
Does he want us to?
I offer Ephesians 3:14-21 as a prayerful response (with my added emphasis), remembering that this was written to a group of Christians:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
I pray it especially for myself.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*For those who are too young (or live in a different part of the world) TOTP was the music chart show that was on the BBC every week from 1964 to 2006.