On this Valentine’s weekend it seems appropriate to consider the gift — for so it is a gift — of love. This is one of the purest of human feelings and experiences, the depth of which surely approaches the divine. There is the love between husband and wife, love of mother and father for their child, citizens for their country, a love of beauty, of truth, a love of God and love from God.
While love from God came last in my list, all the other myriad facets of love would not exist without his love. His love came first and without it there would be darkness. Another way to say this is that all the richness that comes to us from love is possible only because of the goodness of God. His love as a Father for each of us is infinite and eternal. He is the giver of great gifts, of life, of moral agency to choose for ourselves, of a remarkable and beautiful planet. His greatest gift was his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who voluntarily suffered for every sin, every sickness, every bruise that was given or received for all humanity, one soul at a time. The suffering from the crucifixion, as horrible and intense as it was, was nothing in comparison to that weight of suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane for us.
God’s love, as manifest through his Son’s sacrifice, means that forgiveness and renewal are not only possible but within reach. Jesus Christ paid the price of justice so that mercy could carry us.
The two greatest commandments God gave us are to love Him and our neighbor. Our closest neighbor is family. It is where many first experience the deep and powerful love of mother and father. All mothers and fathers fall far short of God’s perfect love, but human love approaches the divine as the workings of love are manifest in small sacrifices made over days, months, years and a lifetime.
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The family is also a place where love is tested to its utmost, where conflicting views, aspirations and needs require communication, understanding and compromise. Perhaps no other institution is such a school for discovering and overcoming our own selfishness and pride, learning to forgive, learning to change or repent. No other institution is such a school for learning to love as God loves us. His love for us is so great that he made it possible for our earthly families to be eternal. God’s love for us, his children, is forever. Our love for Him and for our spouse, children, parents is also intended to be forever.
Charles W. Holland is the bishop of the State College First Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.