Love lets us be persons.
We are made in God’s image, with minds brilliant and hearts containing eternity. Christ patterned us after himself. And while the laws of Life require consequence for turning away from God – consequences we experience both now and eternally – the laws of Life also require free will, free choice in choosing Him. If Scripture teaches us anything, it teaches us this: we are created for relationship, first with God, and then with each other. No heart-bonded relationship is ever created by force, and so the law of relationship exists: a relationship is chosen voluntarily.
For this reason, we were created to be a thinking, choosing, freely-loving humanity. We are redeemed for it, too: “it is for freedom that Christ set us free.” “If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.” “Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit.” “For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
God does not and will not ever coerce us to follow him. He will not, even upon his death or his return, force us to love him. He is a respecter of persons, and as such he offers us himself but does not force us to receive him. In terms of love, he offers us love: here I am, here’s my love, here’s my law, my desire is that you will know me, and let me know you.
I am struggling to say this clearly. Thinking back on the ocean as a picture of God’s love: the ocean and the shore are intimately twined. But they remain distinct. The boundaries of the sea are intact, and (as much as they can be, considering they are creation and not Creator), are trustworthy. So with the love of God toward us as people. So with our relationships with one another. The boundaries prove the trustworthiness of the one who loves, and provide safety to those in relationship.
Christ woes us, Jesus calls to us, we are invited, the love is surrounding us, but love and relationship are not shoved down upon us or pushed inside of us. Love and relationship meet us where we are, but do not flood us without our invitation, without our consent, without our request or desire.
(I know these are modern terms: boundaries, consent. But the living Word is living and active, and our spiritual language, like our English grammar, are our attempts to make sense of a very real and living and present thing. As our grammar seeks to make sense of a living language, so our words seek to make sense of a living God.)
Just as God offers himself but does not coerce, just as he chooses to show us his love but does not demand we receive, so we in his image can offer ourselves without need of coercing him to accept; we can choose him without fretful effort making sure he will receive. This is the freedom: He says here I am, I offer you myself through grace and forgiveness. We respond: Here I am, and I receive you, offering myself through faith and repentance.
He says: I offer you my love, I offer you life.
We say: We accept.