A Climb Free post – a deeper look at truths that can change our view of our God, ourselves, and the way in which we can live effectively in this world.
Years ago, I was working in a church in Idaho, developing student ministry programming and working directly with students from four communities. One of the young men with whom I worked – we’ll call him Chuck – was constantly in trouble. Whether at home, at school, or at church, Chuck was often in hot water due to his penchant for unwise and unrighteous choices. At one point, the pastor of the church and I met with Chuck’s step-father to talk over what we might try next to help Chuck see his way to more effective living. At one point in the conversation, the Pastor made a comment that I have not forgotten in the roughly 35 years since. He said (and I can still quote it), “Well, the real problem is that Chuck has just never come to grips with the love of God for him.” I do not remember anything else of that conversation, but those words have reverberated in my mind and my spirit ever since.
How many of us have ever really understood the nature and scope of our God’s love for us? I have found over the years that those who truly “come to grips” with our God’s love for individual human beings will find that understanding to be life-changing. The depth of our relationship with our God and our ability to love and obey Him will be in large part the product of our understanding and embracing that love.
While the initiation of the human race, theologically speaking, was for reasons as complex as the attributes of our God, He created us for an overriding purpose – so that He might love us. Check out the words for CS Lewis on this idea, from his book, “The Problem of Pain.”
“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest….”
“…But that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest….” This idea cuts cross-ways to the grain of so much of the man-made religiosity that has encrusted our faith in our God. Man-made religiosity is not just the province of the more formal denominations, by the way. Evangelicalism and fundamentalism are both struggling under a crushing burden of man-made religiosity that obscures and diminishes the truth and power of a pure response to the love of God.
It is hard for us to embrace the notion that we do not exist for ourselves, or in Lewis’ terms, that we are not the center and that we do not exist for our own sake. Such is the pervasiveness of our rebellious and self-centered paradigm as humans. That we exist to receive and experience the love of our God makes our self-seeking, self-determining ways of being seem particularly unbecoming, even offensive. How can we be self-seeking in light of a God Who is so self-sacrificing in His love for each of us individually?
Alfred Noyes said, “The universe is centered on neither the earth nor the sun. It is centered on God.” It is hard for us to see how our self-focused paradigm, our tendency to see ourselves as the center and to believe that we exist for our own purposes impacts our view of our God. We do not grasp how we have made ourselves the center of our universe, and have usurped in our minds the rightful place of our God. It bring to mind that well-worn saying, “Someday scientists, in their search for the origin of all things, will finally locate the center of the Universe. Imagine the disappointment of millions when they find out the center of the Universe is not, after all, themselves.”
This selfish paradigm, born into our very nature due to the fall of the race, bends us away from our God as the center. It bends us away from a free and loving friendship with Him, which is the most logical and reasonable approach to a God who loves us. A God who loves us so much that He condescends to our level to redeem us at His own expense in order to demonstrate that love and gain our friendship. We who claim to follow our God do this even in our expressions of faith. Christians over time tend toward religious expressions that allow us to contain our God and control our responses to Him. We set our own spiritual directions and do not abandon ourselves fully in a love relationship with Him. We pursue man-made religious forms and structures at the expense of a purposeful, selfless pursuit of our God, who nonetheless pursues us and offers us His free and boundless love.
The understanding of the love that our God has for us has lost much of the richness and complexity that it should have for us. This is largely due, I think, to the blandness and selfishness that characterizes our modern, English-language concepts of love. Perhaps this is why the love of our God for us as conveyed in the Word of God bears little resemblance to what a great many adherents to the faith to understand it to be. To begin to “fill in the blanks” in our understanding of how our God loves us would go far in helping us to respond to Him with a deeper love and more sincere commitment.
In the next “Climb Free” post we will dig deep into the meanings of the most common and complex biblical descriptor of our God’s love for us.