The Fruit of Soulful Love: Marvin Gaye, God and Us

The Fruit of Soulful Love: Marvin Gaye, God and Us May 20, 2015

The late Marvin Gaye was my first proper crush. His chocolate buttery voice courted me. Like molasses, his lyrics seeped into my heart, mind, and soul. The “[p]leasant words” of his love songs to God were, and still are, “like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24*). When my ten-year-old self listened to “God is Love” from Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On, I tasted, but could not fully savor, his sweet, soulful ode to God. Perhaps I was too young — perhaps not. Still, Gaye’s adoration of God planted seeds of devotion in my heart that years later would bloom into a vital love for my heavenly Papa and beloved Jesus. Nowadays, depending on the day, I can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8a). But no matter how I relate to God on a daily basis, his love remains soulful, and like all good spiritual fruit, it retains its “sweetness” — and I don’t mean the fructose kind.

“Don’t go and talk about my Father
Cause God is my friend
Jesus is my friend”

shutterstock_120756346Can anyone abide in something or someone if there is nothing in which to abide? Uninhibited, unafraid, Marvin Gaye’s lyrics revel in a friendship with God and Jesus that is as private as it is public and as far-reaching as it is personal. Like all humanity, even Jesus needed to be loved. Jesus could not love himself or others if he himself did not experience being loved by the creator of love — God. For Jesus, home is God’s love. In the Gospel of John, Jesus declares, “As the Father loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9). When Jesus rose from the waters during his baptism, it was God’s idea to call Jesus beloved before he began his full-time ministry on Earth. Through this tender moment, God the Father, declared his love for his son publicly: a son “with whom [he was] well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Through Jesus, God shows that his love is not determined by how and when his followers serve him.

Love nurtures humility and cultivates a teachable spirit. Experiencing God’s love was not a one-time event for Jesus but rather an ongoing process of discovery. Even Jesus needed God’s guidance. He could “do nothing on his own” (John 5:19). He was fully human before the God who was present to his complex humanity. Perhaps it was this experience that gave Jesus the courage and strength to cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) as he approached death on the cross. Love speaks to suffering and confronts injustice. Jesus expressed his love for the disfranchised and the hurting in words and action. Oppression cannot quell God’s love for the marginalized nor can his love be limited to one experience or group.

As a friend, Jesus embodies the biblical words: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). He lays down his life for humanity (Romans 5:8) — even when we do not call him friend. This is not just an example of a “greater love” (John 15:13) but the greatest love of all. Love also fosters full disclosure. As Jesus notes, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15, my emphasis). He may have been the son of God but Jesus did not presume that he knew what his heavenly Father wanted to share with him at any given time. As Revd Traci D. Blackmon asserts, “knowing God is not the same thing as knowing what God knows” (Facebook, May 11, 2015). When we assume we know God and “rely on [our] own insight” (Proverbs 3:5), it is as if we are chasing ourselves. And yet, God does not impose his love on us or force us to abide in Jesus’ love. His love waits for us to abide in him.

“[God] loves us whether or not we know it”

God’s love is not conditioned by our awareness of his love or lack thereof (John 15:16). We can shut out God’s love from our hearts, but we cannot shut off God’s love — in this, we have no control or say so, for when it comes to being unloved, God is not about that life. Jesus is not about that life either; that is why he cultivates a transparent and intimate relationship with God. When defined by God, diverse expressions of love are one with God, just as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one. Our relationships, churches, and communities can reflect this love, but history teaches us that we often fall short of loving the disfranchised. We need God to teach us how to love him and the “despised” (1 Corinthians 1:25-31). How much more love will we receive when, through Jesus, we love God more than anyone or anything? The possibilities are endless.

“And he’ll forgive all our sins
Forgive all our sins”

God’s love refuses to do anything by half measures. He forgives all sins. If God is the forgiver of all sins, why should we be ashamed of the God who is not ashamed of us, or our sins? Still, although Jesus gives us his undivided attention and is willing to forgive all our sins, we often find it difficult to give him the very best and worst of ourselves — which is all of us. Such is the beauty of this love that even when we give God the crumbs of our lives Jesus withholds nothing of himself from us.

“He made this world for us to live in, and gave us everything
And all he asks of us, is we give each other love”

God does not hoard love but instead wants to share it with others. Love is not hypothetical but real and tangible. As Marvin Gaye sings, God “gave us everything” and created an Earth that can provide for our every need. God entrusted us with his creation. Whether we are good stewards of these resources is another matter. Love “gives” and love receives. Remarkably, God does not demand that we thank him for giving “us everything” — he doesn’t even ask this of Jesus.

Love, like fruit, cannot be cultivated in a vacuum. It needs a vine, branches, and a vine-grower — a gardener — to tend to that love (John 15:1–11). Without God, fruit cannot exist, let alone last. We need Jesus to teach us how to love. And yes, love prunes those areas of our lives that are not love-giving or life-giving for ourselves or others. When we make choices that undermine our experience of God’s love, Jesus loves us enough to ask, “Is that working for you?” God does not want us to waste away in a love that does not nourish love. He sees and hears us in the midst of our “messy” humanity and is never overwhelmed by our circumstances. Through Jesus, he wants our joy to “be complete” (John 15:11). That is how God’s love rolls.

You know, I am thankful to Marvin Gaye because his love songs to God do not call me to love him more than God, nor does this fine brother lure me away from Jesus. Instead, this lush cocoa chocolate man, with the silky molasses voice… sorry, I lost my train of thought… where was I? Oh yes, the words of Marvin Gaye point me to the creator of love — God (1 John 4:8). And this soulful love bears fruit like no other.

* All biblical quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

[Image courtesy of]

Claudia-May-Professionl-Shot-208x300_optDr. Claudia May is a specialist in African American and Caribbean literature and popular culture, a spiritual writer, poet, and a spiritual director (see ). She is a visiting scholar in the Department of African American Studies and African Diaspora Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and a recipient of the Pacific School of Religion President’s award. She is a passionate follower of Jesus, a woman of prayer, and a lover of biblical stories and wisdom. You can follow her on twitter  @ClaudiaMayPhD

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