God is Love

I don’t want to try to count how many posts I’ve written and published with this title in the past six years. It must be some sort of obsession. And yet, I don’t think we should stop talking about it. Love is God’s very essence; it’s who He is.

It’s very easy to be deceived into thinking that God doesn’t really love us, and that we need to be afraid of Him. Either that or, like me, never really believe it in the first place. It’s a very hard one to get over too, particularly given what we’re told about God in our churches.

We’re told that God is love, but that He only loves us if we repent; that we have to keep a ‘short account’ with Him; that He can’t abide sin and can’t bear to be near it. We get these very mixed messages a lot of the time, and end up asking ourselves

‘Does God really love me?’

If you’re like me, the conclusion you come to is

‘No, not really, because I’m not obedient; I sin all the time; I don’t really trust him’ - and so on.

And so we end up feeling like ‘second class citizens’ - if we feel like citizens at all. I spent years and years being afraid of God - afraid of really ‘letting Him in’ to see the ‘mess’ which was my life (despite knowing that He knew anyway!) - instead of believing I was loved.

It can seem as though our salvation is based upon our obedience - and we fall so far short - and the fear grows stronger. I would ‘make all the right noises’, but deep down inside, I was taking on board all these ‘mixed messages’ about salvation, and doubting, somewhere in the uttermost depths of my being, that I was really saved - doubting that I was loved by God at all.

And I was afraid - not that I’d admit it. It’s not helped by the church telling us to fear God. And we read all that stuff in the Old Testament about him being jealous, and angry, and vengeful. And we tremble - or I did anyway.

And then we read:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4: 7-12

Where is the truth? What is God’s character like?

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. John 14: 9-11

If God the Father is like God the Son, how should we see Him? Let’s look at Luke 15, and the three parables there.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:1-32

Think for a few moments about that last parable. Insert yourself in the story, as one of the characters.

Which one are you - and why?

Six years ago, I realised that I saw myself as the younger brother - but as the younger brother on the journey back, feeling as though I was fit, at most, to be a servant - and, it must be said, I was reasonably content with that. I knew, in a kind of general sense, that God loved all of humanity. But I wasn’t worthy of His love; I didn’t truly believe that I was loved; I didn’t really see how He could love me, amongst everyone. There was too much ‘baggage’, too much stuff I’d done wrong, or never handed over to Him, to be someone God could really love - not in the deepest parts of me anyway.

In some sense, deep down inside I think I saw myself as an imposter in the Kingdom - unworthy to be there, having ‘sneaked in' through some sort of back door while God’s back was turned, and expecting, at some point, to be found and flung out… Unless I ‘made myself useful’ to the extent of being ‘indispensable'.

But then God showed me, miraculously, that yes, I am the younger son - but that He had run down the road when He knew I was returning, and had embraced me. He had put the robe, the ring and the sandals on me; He’d had the fattened calf slaughtered... For me.

I am God’s beloved child. He died on the cross because He lovesme. He rose again for me. He loves me. Yes, He loves everyone else too, but He loves me. I am forgiven. It’s all forgiven. And I don’t have to lift a finger, or feel guilty for a millisecond - indeed, I can’t do anything to change how much God loves me.

The same goes for each one of us.

God is love. If anyone tries to tell you different, or to suggest that

‘God is love, but...’

then be sure that they’re up to something - such as trying to control you, or to frighten you into compliance. Remember what it says in 1 John 4, verses 16 through 18:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4: 16-18

There are no ‘buts’ in love.

Read your way quietly and carefully through that last parable (The Prodigal Son - which I feel perhaps ought to be renamed The Loving Father) again. This time, insert yourself into the story as the Father, and imagine what he feels at each stage - but particularly when the younger son returns - how do you feel then, after putting yourself in the Father’s sandals? Isn’t that really how God the Father feels about you? So, why should you be frightened of Him?

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022