God loves me. These three words give serious occasion for reflection and delight. However, if you are anything like me you find yourself chasing this sweet taste of divine benevolence with other theological tonics, with the end result being that we think that we constantly need to feel guilty in order to enjoy this truth. This is a problem.
Let’s get practical. You’re talking with a friend about what you’ve been reading in your devotions. You mention a passage such as Isaiah 43:4-5: “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” As soon as you hone in on the staggering truth of God’s love, you quickly get uncomfortable. How do I know you’re uncomfortable? Because I get uncomfortable too. I call it “the theological flinch.” When this glorious truth of God’s love is heard in our ears, and begins to seep into our minds and hearts, we quickly run to make qualification of God’s love toward us. Common examples of theological flinching are the quick transitions to the truth of God’s grace, mercy and election. Don’t get me wrong; these are all attributes bound up with God’s benevolent love for us, and in which we delight. As Sinclair Ferguson has so carefully explained it:
God’s love is not separable from His other attributes. He is holy, righteous, omniscient, omnipotent, immutable, and wise love. In that sense the love of God is neither the jailer nor the prisoner of His other attributes, but is always in perfect harmony with them. This point is of great importance. It is often assumed that because God is love He is somehow obligated to be unqualified love, even love’s prisoner (as though love could be abstracted from His other attributes)—or worse, man’s prisoner (as though God had no choice but to love us, irrespective of our nature and condition). We must never abstract love in God from His attributes.1
Yet, the sad truth remains that I often feel uncomfortable just soaking in the rain showers of the truth of God’s unconditional love for me. How comfortable are you owning Paul’s words as your own? “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Any theology that cannot marvel and enjoy the love of God in Christ Jesus is not divinely calibrated. Something has gone wrong and gotten in the way of our receiving this glorious truth.
An Attempt to Explain
Allow me to speculate as to why we often downplay the greatness of God’s love with qualifications. Here are two possible suggestions:
Money laundering God’s love: ” Psychologically, it feels more professional to funnel God’s love through various theological qualifiers–even if it’s erroneous (for a further explanation, see this post). It’s like a money launderer trying to hide the original source of funds so they engage in layering (using multiple accounts and vehicles to hide the original source or nature of the money). That’s what I do. I layer it. Instead of just letting it explode on my lap like a theological firecracker, I say, “It’s for His glory that he elected me despite my deadness in sin, and on and on….” True though all of that may be, it is not supposed to cut the wires of divine love. Instead it is to aid us in further understanding and communicating it. The sad reality is that we are sinful, and God’s love is pride arresting and soul staggering.
Too much for me: Another reason that I (we) sometimes do this is because God’s love for us is far to staggering with which to deal. Let’s face it, for the God of the universe to say that he loves you and that you are precious in His eyes is staggering, to say the least. This is threatening to our autonomy. It undermines our professional business relationship with God and thrusts us into a covenantal relationship of grace. We are not partners with God as in a law firm but covenanted with God as in a marriage. This commitment runs deep both ways.
So I challenge you as I challenge myself today: Examine your heart, particularly in light of God’s love toward you. Chew upon this truth: God loves His children. Stop right there! Loiter with me around this monument of theological truth, drink from the fountain of gospel love, and stop with the qualifiers—just enjoy this staggering truth as you look in faith to Jesus !! “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1.5-6).
1. Ferguson, S. “Must We Also Love Them?” In R. F. Ingram (Ed.), Tabletalk Magazine, November 1991: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (R. F. Ingram, Ed.) (10–11). Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
Erik Raymond is pastor at Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He writes regularly at his blog, Ordinary Pastor and has also written numerous posts for Ligonier Ministries.