By Carla Mckenzie

I think for many years I carried around this unconscious idea that God was distant, or worse – angry and vengeful. I think many people do. That God being ‘almighty’ or ‘all powerful’ implies a cool detachment and a desire to control, to force, to dominate. Indeed this is what we so often see in human manifestations of power.

And so, for many years I struggled with the seeming incompatibility of a God who is supposedly both loving and powerful.

In contrast, in one of the biblical letters attributed to St John, the author writes of his experience simply: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them.”[1]

So often bombarded with violence and exclusion done in the name of God, I believe this is something we need to hear now as much as ever. God’s very essence is love. God can only love.


A new understanding of divine power as infinite divine love

As I began to open myself to experience this mysterious love, I began to radically re-imagine my notion of divine power. In the words of Brother Emmanuel, a monk of the Taize community:

“Little by little we discern a new face of divine omnipotence: an omnipotent love, which reveals its true identity in its capacity to love and go on loving whatever happens, whatever the rejections, disappointments and obstacles placed in its way.”[2]

I began to see God’s power as constituted in God’s infinite love. Love: the most powerful and creative force that exists. A force that creates and cradles the entirety of all that is and continues to create and cradle and hold in being. This is not a power of coercion or control, it cannot be.


Suffering and love

I remember being hugely moved the first time I realised the possibility that God could suffer. Indeed that God must suffer; because to open oneself to love is to open oneself to the possibility of suffering. For God, whose very essence is love, this takes on a whole new weight of meaning.

It is in Christ that we see the beauty, the power of this love moving amongst us. It is on the Cross that we see a very visceral example of God suffering. But I had never really thought about God suffering in other ways, or in other instances. Somehow this vulnerability didn’t seem to match with the God I’d pictured before I came to faith. Like many people, I had associated vulnerability with weakness and weakness as something negative.

But it was in this realisation of a God who suffers that I became better able to make sense of my questions about the existence of suffering, my own and that which I see all around me. It was in this tension between suffering and love that I began to experience a transcendence, began to be pointed towards the tender presence of God.


What has this meant for me?

A wise nun once said to me that all we are to do in life is to grow to love more and to open ourselves, so as to be better able to receive love (for me, as for many, the latter is often the harder part). As we were sitting, she said to me in her French-ish English, “Let your heart become so big, open it so wide that it could fill up this whole room!” I often think of that. I often think of how having a wide open heart exposes one to terrible suffering, my own and that of others. The vulnerability of this is scary for me. But I try to heed her advice. And I struggle to every day.

In this light, prayer has become a seeking of stillness, to enter into loving communion with God. To be still, look at God, and let God look at me. To believe and experience that I am loved just because – and that this is true of every person.

Day-to-day life and relationships can then become “an apprenticeship in love.”[3] Following Christ is exactly this. In the light of a God who can only love, I hear the message of Christ take on a new depth of meaning for me, which could be put as something like: “in Christ’s eyes, love of neighbour, the choice to love and constantly to grow in love, is not a condition to be fulfilled in order to be loved by God, but a consequence of the astonishing and joyful discovery of being already loved by God.”[3]

In the end, love is more than anything, something we must live rather than speak about. Love is not a sentimental thing. It is a very radical thing. It demands a lot, in the way we live our inward and our outward lives, but I believe it is the thing we all most deeply desire and wish to share, the thing that will ultimately satisfy us.

[1] 1 John 4:16b

[2] Brother Emmanuel of Taize, ‘Love, imperfectly known: beyond spontaneous representations of God.’

[3] Brother Emmanuel of Taize, ‘Love, imperfectly known: beyond spontaneous representations of God.’


About the AuthorProfile Carla

Carla Mckenzie

I am an adult convert to Catholicism, which happened much to my own surprise and that of those around me. I live in a vibrant Catholic student community and am studying medicine, which occupies much of my time and thoughts. The rest I spend balancing my desire to read the omnipresent pile of books next to my bed and spending time with family and friends, being outdoors: hiking and surfing.  I love the Church most for its misfit mystics and eccentric saints, and for being able to follow Pope Francis on Twitter.






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