I know, I know, the novel Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke and the movie made from it tell us that love does come softly, but I disagree, if for no other reason than that Jesus, God’s gift because of His love for the world, didn’t come into the world softly. No baby does.
Of course, Jesus wasn’t just any baby, either. First, He left His heavenly home, His throne of glory, His place with the Father. Such a shattering change, taking on the likeness of men, couldn’t have been easy, and hardly seems “soft.”
I don’t think Mary would have characterized anything about Jesus’s birth as “soft.” When the angel came to tell her she’d become pregnant, he first had to tell her not to be afraid. Then there were the months of pregnancy, with no husband—the worry that perhaps Joseph would not want to marry her; the dread of what her neighbors would think, and say; the loneliness of being pregnant without the shared experience of other expectant mothers; the trip to Bethlehem when she was eight months’ pregnant; finding no room where she could give birth to her baby.
These could not have been easy, but mother love has a way of putting the needs of the child above her own thoughts of comfort and ease.
Then there was the actual birth that first Christmas. I’m pretty sure Mary wouldn’t have said her love for her son came softly. Not during the pain of childbirth. In a manger. Away from home. Did she have a midwife to help with the delivery? Or did her betrothed step in and help her? Or was there a kind stranger who heard her cries and came to her side? Or was she alone? None of those would be easy or “soft.”
Of course there were the shepherds who came later that night to worship her son. Yes, I imagine Mary was really up for company about then. And worship? Her son? Because of angels?
Months later Mary and Joseph packed up and hurried out of town, headed for Egypt, in order to save the life of their little one. Such a journey, driven by the fear of not knowing if they’d be pursued, if they’d find a welcoming place to live, could not have been easy. I wouldn’t characterize it as a soft period in their lives.
But ultimately Mary did lose Jesus. As the righteous, devout man Simeon prophesied when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple when he was a week old, Mary experienced the “sword piercing her own soul.”
It was important for Mary to know that mothering the Messiah would not be all sweetness and light. It was both a great privilege and a great burden. (David Guzik, Study Guide for Luke 2 through Blue Letter Bible)
Soft? Not really.
So Christ’s example shows us that God’s love didn’t come softly, and we see that Mary’s love for Jesus didn’t come softly. Both came at great cost.
The Apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned one of the enduring, oft-quoted passages about love. It’s beautiful, but primarily it sets down just how “not soft” love is:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
Endures. Bears all things. Does not seek its own. These are not the ideas of Hollywood love that’s filled with personal pleasure. This love that Paul describes is hard. It’s all about putting others first.
This love does not come softly. It comes from hard work, from sacrifice, from prayer, from discipline, from choosing to love even if feeling love isn’t there.
God loved us while we were yet sinners. There was nothing in us to commend us to God. We were rebellious, prideful little tyrants, trying to tell God what He should do and on what basis we would be willing to give Him worship. In our unregenerate state, we are insufferable. And God loved us.
That doesn’t come softly. It comes at great cost. And that’s the love God wants us to emulate:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34)
I understand that Janette Oke’s book/movie had in mind the idea that love comes unexpectedly, as we walk through life together, sharing and working and helping one another. In the story, the two lonely people, the widow and widower who had agreed to create a household together for reasons other than love, found love. They weren’t looking for love, but softly, through the long winter, their hearts came together.
It makes a wonderful, heartwarming story. A Hallmark story. I love a good romance, a happy ending. It’s just that, in truth, love—for a spouse or child or neighbor or coworker or boss or church member or in-law—takes work and commitment and perseverance. It is hard.
Quite honestly, realizing how love is hard makes me appreciate God’s love so much more:
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy (Titus 3:4-5a)
If God hadn’t loved, not a one of us would be saved.
In fact, God as He reveals Himself in the Bible, is the only God among all the gods who loves those He made. Pagan gods, Hindu gods, the god of Islam, demand obedience and generate fear. The One True God shows Himself over and over as the God who provides, who rescues, who gives grace, who loves.
There’s nothing soft about His love . . . except perhaps the receiving of it.