I sat on the bleachers at London Gym this morning, watching two K-2nd grade teams battle it out in a nail-biter of a game. While my son Malachi’s purple-shirted team scrapped in a vain attempt to come from behind, Malachi sat on the bench with his blue Gatorade held up to his ear as a make-believe telephone that he talked into animatedly. Instead of becoming irritated and trying to get his attention to tell him to pay attention to the game, my heart melted in absolute love for this precious little seven-year-old boy who, despite his many unusual idiosyncracies, brings continual joy to my life.
As I pondered this tonight, I was overcome with the realization that this is exactly how our God loves us. We in Puritan-tainted American Christianity have this idea that if we’re not doing exactly what God wants of us at any given time, then He must be mad at us, irritated beyond belief by these scatterbrained humans.
Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon, now made famous in 11th grade literature books, called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In this sermon which was delivered to his Massachusetts congregation in 1741, Edwards said: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.”
Baloney. Yes, I said it–BALONEY. Or bologna, if you prefer technical correctness, you Puritan you. (Just kidding–c’mon and smile!)
I’m not afraid anymore to question things that I don’t believe are Scriptural. If I was unconverted and thought that the God of all creation was looking at me like a loathsome spider, I doubt that I would want to serve such a God. And if I did, it would be purely out of fear and not at all out of love.
But do you know what the Bible tells me? It tells me that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for me–that I might live and have life more abundantly. It tells me that He has His people’s names graven on the palm of His hand, that they are the apple of His eye.
Does He want us to live holy lives, worthy of example? Of course. Does He withdraw His love for us if we don’t? Absolutely not. Unconditional love by definition means loving without conditions, doesn’t it? If He loves me based on whether or not my works measure up, then isn’t this a works-based salvation? (Yes, I know faith without works is dead, but right now we’re only talking about God’s love regardless of works.)
There are those high in the penthouses of religiosity who are afraid to preach God’s love too much. They fear that people will begin to subscribe to “easy grace,” “salvation without accountability,” “loose living.” But I read a book by a renowned preacher once that argued that if we truly believed that God loved us unconditionally and irrevocably, then we would actually live better. We would yearn to please such a God; we would long for Him to be proud of us.
Think of this in your own life. If your parents were demanding in such a way that you felt they wouldn’t love you as much if you didn’t line up with their standards, didn’t you have at least a tiny bit of resentment and insecurity? Isn’t it possible that this could’ve led to you harboring a secret rebellion that may have even resulted in you stepping into sinful behavior?
But if you had a parent that you knew would adore you to the ends of the earth, wouldn’t you have wanted to make that parent proud of you? (Disclaimer: we’re not saying that parents should have no discipline or standards to be adhered to. To the contrary, good parents discipline their children according to the Word of God, but they do it without condemnation and rather with love.) Receiving unconditional love may actually propel us to live better rather than to use it as an excuse to take advantage of grace.
What’s your picture of God? Of course you would probably say He loves us. But do you still somehow have a little sense that He is mad at you if you don’t do right? That He is watching you with His judgmental eagle eye, just itching to throw down a lightning bolt if you mess up? That even if He bears with you in your folly, He does so with a frustrated sigh of impatience that you are NEVER going to get it all together?
I have a word of advice for you: Put that theology out by the road for the garbage collector. Flush it down the toilet with all of the other crud (Mama never let me say “cr*p.”) Step on it then jump up and down on it with all of your might until it is ground into unusable powder then go get the Electrolux.
Then receive this into your hungry heart: God loves you. You are His precious creation. Yes, He wants you to live a righteous life. Yes, there is a price to pay for sin. But no matter what you do, He loves you. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
Beloved of God, we are not plucking petals off a daisy to see if He loves us or loves us not!
Have you trusted your life to the Father? Then imagine Him loving you the way you love your children, even when they backtalk you or use their Gatorade as an imaginary phone when they should be concentrating on the task at hand. Rest tonight knowing that you are His beloved and that this fact isn’t based on how good you are.
“I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Psalm 52:8
(Click on the link below to hear one of my very favorite songs, “My Beloved,” sung by Kari Jobe. I imagine that God is singing this to me, and it usually makes me cry out of pure joy.)