I’m not trying to be clever. Yesterday at 11 a.m. I was standing on NW 11th Street in downtown Portland, about ten paces East of a shop named Eden. My wife Maureen was inside looking for a towel rack. Outside, I was soaking up sunshine on a most spectacular Portland day.
That’s when an unusual piece of urban grafitti caught my eye; its chalky message posted at ground level on a dusty, clay colored brick – “humans can love.”
I was transfixed by the message. Who wrote it? Why? Why say, “can” love? Why not say that humans “do” love, or “should” love? And what about the cryptic reference – “humans?” Why not just say “people?” Why write this strange, street level assessment of our basic and universal human capacity to love?
Twenty minutes later, outside a great new lunch spot, my 5 year old granddaughter Eliot ran to me. Hugging my leg she looked up with smiling eyes and said, “Grandpa, I want to sit with you!” We squeezed into a booth with my daughter, son in law, and three grandchildren: pure sweetness, hearts full. And It was good.
Two hours later, Maureen and I were in the Portland Rose Garden. Hand in hand we took in the beauty. We dove in together. We rubbed velvet petals between our fingers. We breathed in a vibrant spectrum of colors and smells, walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And it was very good.
OK, I am trying to be clever.
I want sunshine in Portland every day. I want my grandchild on my lap and my wife by my side. I want Eden – untainted, unspoiled. I want love.
This is the gift of God: humans can love. It’s built in; he made us this way; created in the image of God. But humans do not love, not as they should. Sin takes its toll. So God makes his promise, then, he acts to rescue us. That’s the gospel. Best of all, he rescues us for relationship. Jesus gives us the greatest commandment: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and a second like it, love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40)
The commands of God are part of a larger story: creation, sin, promise, redemption, and transformation. Every command of God serves the larger story, teaching us to live a life of love. We need the direction, the boundaries, and the guidance of God. We need a clear path to navigate the joys and perils of relationships in a broken world. Humans can love, but it’s not easy.
We know – this side of heaven – exactly what a rose garden is: an explosion of beauty just above a tangle of thorns.