Friday, March 2, 2012

On God's Love: Does it really "work" the way we think it does?

Wednesday's post sparked a couple of great questions from old friends about the nature of God's love, and what motivation we have for pursuing some kind of relationship with God absent the whole eternal damnation thing, so I thought I'd carry the conversation over here.

Throughout my life I've desperately wanted one these amazing experiences of God's love that I’ve heard so many people talk about. You know the ones I'm talking about: the warmth that fills the room, the inexplicable peace, the assurance, the feeling of the arms wrapping you up.

I wouldn’t have minded a ladder to heaven either, but that might’ve been a bit much.

Finding myself dissatisfied with my view of God as a loving being because I had never had one of these tangible experiences, I felt like I had to question my expectations of God. So I did, and it was at that point, I stumbled across one those most oft-quoted-yet-just-as-oft-misunderstood verses: 
1 John 4:8. “Whoever does not know love, does not know God, because God is love.”
I read this verse that I’d read a million times, and I came to a pretty drastic conclusion.

God doesn’t love us. 

Whoa, wait, what's that now?  Please, allow me to explain.

God doesn't love us in the ways that we know and understand love.  God's love is so complete, so full, so rich, so beautifully unconditional that it is indistinguishable from the person of God. 

God IS love, personified. 

When we love authentically and experience authentic love, we are experiencing the very nature of God. 

When I look into my oldest son’s eyes and my heart feels like it could explode with love for this little person, God is there, because God is love. 

When the little one goes from screaming bloody murder to softly cooing and burrowing into my neck and I know at that moment that I would do anything for that little baby, God is there, because God is love. 

When my wife and I throw tired eyes at one another across the room, an ocean of chaos and toys and puke-covered burp cloths and dirty diapers between us, and both of us know exactly what the other is thinking: “I would choose you and this all again, over and over and over,” God is there too, because God is love.

For me, it comes down to this: that’s how God loves me. 

I do feel that warmth in the room, when I'm putting my oldest to bed and the room is so thick and rich with love as he kisses me goodnight that I want to stay there forever. 

I do feel that inexplicable peace, when the little one has cried himself to sleep in my arms or (finally now) in his crib, and instead of angry and annoyed (though I often feel those things as well), I just feel overwhelmed with love.

I do feel the assurance, when Jill and I talk about the plans for our family that sound so insane most normal people would probably think we were joking if we told them about, yet in each other, we know where we're going, and we know we'll be walking through it together.

I had built up this unrealistic expectation of what it was like to “feel loved by God” and in doing so, had put up artificial boundaries between myself and those God was using to show me what love was, and subsequently, what God was, since God, after all, is love.

Now, I’m not discounting those experiences that people have when they feel loved by God, I think that they’re very real, and once I got past my own hang-ups as to what that’s supposed to look like, I even started to “feel” it myself, albeit in a totally new way.

How this ties back to the evangelism discussion is this: Salvation/relationship/connection with God tends to be put in terms of economics or law, it’s a contract. We do X and God saves us from eternal barbecue. This kind of thinking leaves us with an understandably transactional, tit-for-tat view of our relationship with God. 

But I believe that God is Love and that Christ was the ultimate, selfless expression of that love, and that every experience of authentic love and goodness and kindness and grace and joy that I have is another instance of that perfect love pursuing me. 

So for me, the question isn't why would I or what's my motivation to pursue God, but rather, if God is love, why would I not?

1 comment:

  1. Your thoughts here bring me so much joy. I've thought before how unfortunate it is that there are so many kind, loving people in unevangelized places who are headed for (as you call it) eternal barbecue. I don't have a detailed scripture-based logic to affirm how or if non-Christians are saved, but my tangible idea of God suddenly made so much more sense when I realized that those who love know God, whether they know it or not.

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