Last week we took our initial swing at answering the question that makes up leg #1 of our four-legged theological stool upon which the Christian faith firmly rests: “What is God like?”
We discovered that a careful examination of God’s divine characteristics of omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience messed with some of our most cherished presuppositions, i.e., our “free will,” making us notably uncomfortable.
Those divine traits, discussed so casually and glibly by most Christians, upon careful examination expose us as believing in a make-believe god who doesn’t even exist! We have created a fictitious, tamed, house-broken, domesticated god whom we have made in our own image, to specifications of our own choosing. Some are famous for saying (I am sure some said this after reading last week’s newsletter), “I can’t believe in a god like that,” as if they get to choose what their God is like.
So, upon learning what “sovereign” actually means, you may have discovered that you really don’t believe God is sovereign, if that word means He controls everything in His creation. On the other hand, you may choose your own definition, and believe that He is 50%, 75%, or 95% sovereign as long as a portion of the decisions in your world remain with you.
Today’s posting poses a similar issue. In our investigation of the question, “What is God like?” all Christians know that “For God so loved the world . . . .“ However, the uncertainty lies in whether or not they really understand 1.) what that phrase concerning God’s love actually means, and 2.) how it applies to them, not as an impersonal part of the collective “world,” but individually, by name, and personally as His little child. My contention is that many do not, thus many Christians do not believe God loves them in the way that He actually does. Let’s look at those two uncertainties.
1. What does “God loves me” mean? The Greek word for “love” used in John 3:16, partially quoted above, is the word “agape,” whose characteristics are described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. In this passage Paul is telling us that any religious activity he may perform, no matter how seemingly powerful and effective, is actually meaningless unless he has agape love as he is doing so.
Yet, as I read this passage thoughtfully and perceptively it becomes quickly apparent that for me to love others in this way, deep in my heart, is impossible, and yet sermons abound that encourage me to try to have these same characteristics.
However, the Bible teaches that God Himself has no trouble loving me with agape love a la 1 Corinthians 13, because it is not simply one of His characteristics—it is His very nature: “God is agape” (1 John 4:8, 16). By nature, He can do nothing else! So, rather than read that passage with my name substituted for “love” as I aspire to live in like manner, a better way to read that passage is to substitute “God” for “love” and read it knowing that God loves me in this very manner! Do you believe that? Let’s see what that would look like.
“God is patient and kind; He is not jealous or conceited or proud;
God is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; God does not keep a record of wrongs;
God is not happy with evil, but He is happy with the truth.
God never gives up; and His faith, hope, and patience never fail. God is eternal.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 GNB).
I may have these traits in a measure, and on occasion but never fully, all the time as God does. What does this love-nature of God mean to me?
2. How does this love apply to me personally? This means His love for me is not ever conditioned on my response. He never loves me “if , , , (if I obey Him)” or “because . . . (because I am at least trying to be good).” No! What I do or don’t do has no affect on God whatsoever. He always loves me “in spite of . . . (in spite of all my failures, my sin, and my lack of commitment).” Where God is, agape love is, because God is agape!
We can never run Him off, neither by what we do, nor by how hard we may try to do so. This omniscient, loving Daddy sees us fully, even our innermost thoughts. Yet He is never disappointed, disapproving, displeased or discouraged with us. He always thinks we are adorable, delightful, charming, precious, and of inestimable worth, even in the midst of falling into sin. His love needle does not move—ever. As the title of today’s posting asks, “Do you really believe it?”
You may say, “This can’t be true. What about God’s justice, another of His biblical characteristics?” Excellent question. Next week’s answer will blow you away.