We talk a lot about love in churches and families. Unfortunately I think we often have distorted views of God’s love based on our experiences with human versions of love. Today, I want to explore unconditional love.
A Father’s Love
It was over 25 years ago, yet I can still remember very clearly the first time I held our oldest daughter, Gabrielle. We were young, foolish, naive, and certainly not ready to be parents. But the moment that I held that precious little baby, I was changed forever. There aren’t adequate words in the English language to describe the connection that I felt. The depth of love that I knew for her was beyond my understanding.
There have been times in the past 25 years that I didn’t show that love perfectly. I didn’t fully know how to put into action the love that was in my heart. I operated from my experiences and understanding. Yet, even in my mistakes and failures, I loved her.
There is nothing that Gabrielle (or any of my kids) can do to cause me to stop loving them. For you see, they didn’t do anything to earn my love. Because they didn’t earn it, they can’t “unearn” it (I know unearn isn’t a proper word).
The Father’s love is also unearned; we can’t do anything to cause Him to stop loving us. Scripture tells us that He loves us so much that He gave His only Son that we might have life everlasting (John 3:16). And that great sacrifice was made while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).
Yet, we seem to think that if we don’t do everything just right, we won’t have God’s love. Say the wrong thing and you better be looking over your shoulder or duck to avoid that lightning bolt. That’s not love, that’s a dictator ruling by fear. God is NOT a dictator seeking to smite. He is a loving father seeking relationship.
A Skewed Perspective
I’ve been hanging around church and Christians for over four decades now. I’ve seen a broad spectrum of beliefs and ways of applying the Bible to our everyday lives. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christians and churches that have a very skewed concept of God’s love.
One day, as a teenager, I was confronted after church by a gentleman. My crime that day (there were many in my teen years) was to wear a tie with jeans. Yes, he specifically called me out and told me that I should be wearing dress pants if I was going to wear a tie! Nevermind the fact that I didn’t own dress pants or that it was a knit tie which was commonly worn with jeans back then. Even though I went to the effort and discomfort of wearing a tie to church, because I wanted to honor the Lord, in his opinion, I was an insult to God.
Just as that gentleman had developed a wrong perspective of what is important, we often have many experiences in life that are causing us to not see God’s love as it is. We read stories in the Bible about people being killed by God for seemingly innocent acts such as Uzzah who touched the Ark in 2 Samuel 6. These experiences have developed in us a skewed understanding of who God is and how much He really loves us.
Ten years ago I was angry with God, the church, church people, and just about anyone else that got in my way. For about two years I lived in a deep place of anger and bitterness. I told God that I didn’t like His people, and wasn’t sure how I felt about Him. I quit church and was certainly never going to work in ministry again. Those were very dark days in my life.
In those days I did everything I could to ignore God. Yet, much like the prodigal son, when I was willing to look back at Him, He was there. Not with a lecture about my behavior. Not with condemnation or shame. He was there with open arms and very clearly said “I love you, son.”
Through the following days of restoration, as I struggled with who I am and who He is, the most frequent words I heard were “I love you, son.” His love was always there. I am the one who walked away, hurt and angry. He never stopped loving me. He never stopped pursuing me.
In our ministry, we work with people who are called to minister. Most church folk think that ministers are near-perfect people who have life (and God) all figured out. At the risk of bursting a few bubbles, we are actually some of the most messed up people that you could imagine. Ministers often have backgrounds that include abuse, rejection, addictions, failures, and many other great struggles.
How is it possible for someone with a broken life to be a minister? Through the incredible love of Father God!
When we accept our true identity as a child of God and receive His unconditional love, we become able to accomplish what He has called us to do. You see, it is not through our abilities, talents, efforts, or even doing the “right” things. The only way we can be successful and fulfilled is when we walk in His love and freely give that love to others in overflow.
In general, we each operate through the biases of our understanding and experiences. If you grew up in a home that required you to perform to be accepted, then you will generally perform as an adult. That may be in your work, your play, your religion, and your relationships. Not surprisingly, this impacts your relationship with God.
I want to encourage you to step outside of your understanding and experiences to receive the Father’s love. God’s love is more perfect than any love that we could ever have for another. The depth and breadth of our Heavenly Father’s love is beyond our comprehension and understanding. There is nothing that you can do to earn His love, so stop trying. There is nothing you can do to lose His love, so stop thinking you can (Romans 8:39).
Just receive it. Invite Him to tell you how much He loves you. Allow Him to give you a hug. Give yourself permission to be a child, held by your loving Father. Experience His acceptance. Hear Him say “I love you, my child.”
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