Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Importance of Knowing that God Loves You
Some Christians have experienced painful disappointments and want to abandon the faith. Meanwhile, a pastor friend and his wife have been enduring horrible trials for the past few years and have been delighting in God and praising Him to almost everyone they meet. None can really say why these things are happening to them. So what makes the difference in their attitudes? The pastor and his wife are assured that, however painful their circumstances, it will all work out for good, whether they see the good or not. They know our Lord and know that He loves them!
This is the ultimate response to our trials. We all need to know our Savior – to truly know that He loves us. It’s this certainty that produces endurance. In fact, knowing God is the doorway to all spiritual blessings:
• “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:2-3).
Paul reasons that by knowing God we can really be assured of His love:
• “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:8-10).
His logic is impeccable. If we accept the premise that God loved us while we were His enemies – so much so that He endured the Cross – then it makes all the logical sense in the world that, now that we have become His friends, reconciled to Him, He will not spare any expense to protect His investment. In other words, now that He has paid for us and remodeled us, He is not going to allow anything to jeopardize His treasures – us!
I find the logic of the Cross very compelling. In the midst of life-controlling depression, I had envisioned God as robotic – a detached spectator of the freak show unraveling below His uncaring gaze. At least that’s what it felt like. I prayed to Him, but with little enthusiasm or confidence.
I remember the agonizing night, when the reality of the Cross grabbed me. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t some created being who had died on the Cross – the death of such a being could never convince me of God’s love, since He could make 50,000 Christs with one word, at no expense to Himself! Instead, I realized that God Himself had died for me! He wasn’t robotic but an intimately involved Person who suffered along with me (Hebrews 4:15). He actually and intimately loved me, and I knew I was safe.
This didn’t end all my doubts about God’s love, but it gave me a crutch upon which I could rest some of my weight. Maybe I was saved, but I was still convinced that God really didn’t like me that much. How could He, if I continued to suffer so much! However, over the next several years, He wooed me through His Word to a vibrant vision of His love. I began to see things that I had never seen before. For example, King David had received everything he wanted, or at least needed, from God. However, that wasn’t enough for him. Although he already had numerous wives, he saw another woman from a distance and convinced himself that he had to have her. He therefore implicated others by having them bring her to him. She later informed David that she was pregnant. No problem! He would cover up his misdeed by bringing her husband Uriah home from the front line, where his troops were fighting David’s battles. However, Uriah refused to sleep with his wife as long as his fellow soldiers were still sacrificing their lives in David’s army. So David had Uriah killed, implicating yet others in his bloody plot.
He then married the widow Bathsheba, but God took their child as He had promised David. Although God forgave David, He also informed him that there would be painful consequences, because of his horrible betrayal.
Afterwards, Bathsheba gave birth to a son, whom David named “Solomon,” “Shlomo” in the Hebrew, from the word “shalom,” meaning “peace.” It seems that David had been hoping against hope itself that there would now be peace between him and his God. However, the prophet Nathan informed David that God had His own name for the child:
• “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah” (2 Samuel 12:24-25).
I was startled to learn that “Jedidiah” meant “beloved of God.” It seemed that God was telling David that He would do better than just peace. He would cherish this child who had been brought forth into this world through the most sinful circumstances – adultery and murder!
Jedidiah preached an entire sermon to me. It didn’t matter at all what our circumstances had been – how well we had been respected or liked, whether we had been a failure or not, or even the extent of our sins. If God was for us, who could be against us (Romans 8:31-32)! He was able to take the worst circumstances and turn them around (Ezekiel 33:10-16). He could take the ugly and find in it beauty, but did He find beauty in me? I felt so keenly that there was something repulsive about me, something that was repugnant to God.
If anyone had been repugnant to God, it was the Apostle Paul. He not only killed Christians but even forced them to renounce their faith! Paul correctly understood that, before God, he was the pits:
• “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15-16).
Paul explained that God’s love and forgiveness of him should be able to convince any doubter that if God would forgive Paul, He was willing to forgive anyone! However, God didn’t just forgive Paul. He loved him and fashioned him into the greatest missionary that the church has ever known.
Paul wasn’t the only example of God’s incredible love. King Manasseh of Judah had been the worst of the worst. He lived his life in utter contradiction to every thing that God was about. He even killed His prophets. Consequently, God declared,
• "Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle’” (2 Kings 21:11-12).
However, Manasseh’s story doesn’t end here:
• “In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God” (2 Chron. 33:12-13).
If God could act so lovingly to David and Manasseh, perhaps there was hope for me. Indeed, there is this hope for all of us:
• “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Nevertheless, I continued to struggle against feelings that, although God had promised to forgive me, He did so reluctantly and without any passion for me. However, I was learning that everything in Scripture cried out against such a notion. I learned that when a sinner – any sinner – repented, even the angels in heaven rejoiced heartily (Luke 15:7, 10). I saw how the Father waited expectantly for the Prodigal Son to return. I was explicitly assured that He loves us with a love that goes far beyond anything that we can imagine (Ephesians 3:19).
It’s impossible for me to catalogue all of the Biblical expressions of His profound love. Some of them are quite cryptic, like the reference to “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7) who wanted to cast his innocent daughters before a sexually ravenous mob or to a pathetic Abraham who confessed,
• “And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her [Sarah], 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, He is my brother.'" (Genesis 20:13).
Abraham had his wife engage in this deception so that when someone would take his beautiful wife for sexual purposes, they wouldn’t kill him, but would reward him for his “sister.” It shocked me to find that even after Abraham turned from God, God didn’t turn from him, but still called him “a prophet” (Gen. 20:7)! More and more, I began to see that if there was hope for Abraham and Lot, there was hope for me. In fact, God has always been in the business of taking society’s rejects and surprising them with His steadfast love (Psalm 34:17-18; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Cor. 1:26-29).
I have found that as I have grown in the assurance of His love and acceptance, I’ve also learned to accept myself. Consequently, the opinions of others have taken a back seat (Proverbs 29:25). Now, when the trials come, my reaction isn’t, “You must despise me for having me go through this!” Instead, I think, “What gracious rainbow will illuminate my life after these storms have passed?”
We need to be reassured that He truly loves us, and there is no better way than to meditate on His Word (Psalm 1). Only with this understanding can we stand against adversity.