Is God Obligated to Love People?
A long time ago I was speaking at a church on a Friday night and became annoyed by their signature mug. I was teaching about Enjoying the Presence of God but this seemed over-the-top, highly emotional, and more sentimental than kittens wearing booties. It said:
God is crazy about you & there’s nothing you can do about it.
The next day as I taught about how Jesus loved and healed people even when he was angry (Mark 3:1-6), how he immediately took hold of the distracted, fearful Peter sinking in the turbulent waves (Matthew 14:31). God’s love is not sloppy and sentimental but determined and relentless. I looked again at the mug and began to think the saying on the mug was exactly right. By Sunday, I bought one for myself.
God actually likes us, never rolling those divine eyes at us when we’re rude or we exaggerate to make a good impression. Love in God’s world is desperately wanting what is best for someone. God doesn’t pull the rug out from under us (causing broken bones) or zap us with diseases. Many passages about the supposedly not-so-tender hearted Old Testament God tell about God weeping over people—even the bad guys. This patient God stuck it out with people who repeatedly chased after everything but God’s very own self.
So I began including in a lot of my teaching the idea that God loves us beyond what we can believe. One student, an energetic youth pastor, wrote me an email after being in my class at Azusa Pacific University. She said:
I believed God loved me the way you love people you have to love, as opposed to loving them because you delight in their company or their presence. There have been a few teenagers over the years who were annoying and difficult to be around, yet I loved them as my students and was available to them whenever they needed me. I loved them by choice and because they were mine.
However, I would not necessarily choose to be around them if I could help it. This is how I thought God felt about me! I did not believe that God would choose to be around me if He could help it–that God delighted in me, wanted to be close to me, and loved me not simply out of obligation. As I began to talk to God about this, I heard God say very intimately, “I do want to be close to you,” at which point I began to cry, right in the middle of the school library!
This is hard for us to believe because we’ve never known anyone like this. So here’s a verse many of you have heard me teach (Zephaniah 3:17) with some additions. Keep in mind this was spoken to a post-exilic people who hadn’t learned all that much in their exile. Jesus came soon thereafter.
The Lord your God is with you . . . even when you make mistakes.
He is mighty to save (deliver, make whole) . . . even and especially when you fail.
He will take great delight in you . . . even when you can’t stand yourself.
He will quiet you with his love . . . even when everything inside you is screaming or numb.
He will rejoice over you with singing . . . even when your world is falling apart.
Which line speaks most to where you are today? Why might God want to say that to you?
Grace and peace,
Oct 2-4, FB 3 Day Life without Lack Challenge: What would your life be like if you weren’t ever afraid, feeling dread, wanting to escape? 3 pm PT https://mattrhodes.lpages.co/life-without-lack-3-day-challenge/
Oct 14 Life without Lack online course begins; based on Dallas Willard’s new book Life without Lack, taken from my favorite set of his teaching tapes!
Nov 2 Enneagram workshop. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/enneagram-workshop-with-jan-johnson-tickets-65504845757
Jan 13 Enneagram online course: What do you want to be different about you this year?