When we say that God loves us, what do we mean? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Love is one of the most meaningless words in the English language. Another one of the most meaningless words in the English language is god. Some of you might be shocked to hear me say both of those. I hope before too long, you’ll actually agree with both of them.
When I speak of something like say, a cat, you have a good idea what I mean. Most of you would probably think of your regular housecat. Some might think of lions and tigers and other animals. You won’t think of a wolf or a fish.
When I speak of a pizza, you also know what I’m talking about. You might have disputes about what kind of pizza it is, such as pepperoni or just cheese or a veggie pizza, but you will get the general idea. The word has some substance to it.
Such is not the case when I speak of god or of love, and god is intentionally lower-case for now. When we say those things, we can say something and totally confuse any other person we’re talking to because they mean something different by them. Let’s start with the idea of what god means.
In my debate with Dan Barker, as some people noted and I agreed, Barker’s god sounds more like Zeus than anything else. He’s a god eager to strike someone down for any wrongdoing and any concept of love and grace was foreign. That’s why the term god is meaningless without some concept. Speak to a Hindu or a new ager or a Muslim or a Mormon and you’ll get radically different ideas when you use the same word god.
So it is with love as well. When we talk about love today, often what we speak of is a feeling for one person. Love can produce feelings and that’s fine. Some people are very feelings oriented. I have great admiration for my own wife in this area in the way she talks about feeling the love of God. For me, that doesn’t often register.
Yet if love means warm feelings, it’s not much. It’s saying “I feel something very special in me because of you.” That’s nice, but the love is not really about the good of the other person as much as it is about the good of the self. Biblically, love is giving to the other for the good of the other and seeking the good of the other for their sake.
1 Corinthians 13 naturally comes to mind. One good exercise to do is when you get to verse 4 and start going through love is patient and other such things, take out the word love as you read it. Put your own name in it. Do you really think you’re saying true statements still? If you’re not, then you have to ask if you’re really loving.
Now if we have the real concept of God, we have someone who is the greatest good, and goodness itself, who loves us. This is not some toting grandfather in the sky who is saying as long as the children are happy. This is a love that wants the very best for us. As Lewis would say, unfortunately, we are far too easily pleased and hold on to things sometimes and get scared of what it would be like to not have them.
It’s not to say you have to give up everything. God gives us many things richly for our enjoyment. What we have to ask is if something is really becoming a hindrance between us and God. Anything that comes before God is not being good for us, no matter how good it might be in itself.
I’m a gamer, and I love playing my games. Still, if God told me that I had to give them up for Him, I would honestly hope that I would do it. I’m not going to tell you it would be easy. I’m not going to tell you I would be thrilled with the thought. I am not going to make a foolish boast and say I would do that in a heartbeat. I’m not so foolish as that. We all know what happened with Peter and his boasting.
But if we’re not willing to sacrifice for the love of God, we have to ask if we really want it. Sometimes, I don’t think we want to be loved by God. If we are loved by God, then we are in danger of being changed by God. When my wife and I attend Celebrate Recovery, sometimes this skit is played by the Skit Guys about this kind of love and it’s really powerful.
But not only that, if we sacrifice anything for God, we are told we will receive 100 times as much in the world to come. This is a promise. God is interested in our happiness and joy, but it might be that we have to go through short-term suffering to get long-term joy and happiness.
If we trust God though, then we need to trust Him with everything in our lives. Note that I don’t think God will call us to give up anything that involves committing a sin in giving it up. If you are in a Christian marriage, God will not call you to give that up. We can also be assured that Abraham is a rare exception and God will not call us to kill our children for Him.
But if we want the love of God, it should be worth it. If we don’t really want it, then we really have a low concept of the God that we are claiming to love. In our day and age, it’s easy to love other things more than God. I really admired it when I heard Peter Kreeft say that sometimes he fears he is a bigger Red Sox fan than he is a Jesus fan.
We could also fear the judgment of God. God will look on us we fear and find something He doesn’t like. This is something odd to fear because God already knows how we are. We’re not going to keep any secrets from Him. He loves us just as we are.
What could you do today to make God love you more? Nothing. What could you do to make Him love you less? Nothing. God will always be seeking your good which is also His good in the long run. It’s not that God has special feelings about you. He has a commitment to you.
That’s what real love is. It’s a commitment. Anyone can be loving when they have good feelings for a person. That’s easy. What’s really loving is when you do the right thing to that person even when you don’t have those feelings and maybe even when the negative feelings are there. Talk to most any married couple and you’ll find there are times they have less than loving feelings towards one another. That’s the time when it’s the most important to be loving, and it’s the most worthwhile.
Seek the love of God today. It’s always there. It’s always been there. It’s always worth pursuing.