Christians believe (intellectually, in cognitive assent) that God loves them, but sadly, few know it as a reality in their hearts. All too often we feel unworthy of God’s love, and this deep-seated fear of not being good enough cripples our walk with God and our heartfelt experience of His love.
In the familiar passage of John 15, Jesus talks about the vine and the branches, and the critical importance of abiding. Verse 9 reads: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. Jesus lived each moment of his earthly life within the circumference of the Father’s love. He knew himself to be deeply loved by his Abba (Mark 14:36, Aramaic for ‘daddy’). This consciousness was the source of his strength throughout his life.
On two occasions, during Jesus’ time on earth, God the Father spoke with a heavenly voice to remind him, and those listening, that he was indeed the beloved Son. At the Jordan River, during his baptism, a word of wonderful reassurance came as he began his earthly ministry: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased (Matt 3:17). Then, as the cross drew near, a second moment of affirmation came. High up on the slopes of Mount Tabor, he was transfigured before his disciples and his true glory was fleetingly revealed. Most important of all though, was the voice that spoke, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased (Matt 17:5).
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the consciousness of his identity as the Beloved remained with him. Jesus knew himself to be loved. The Father loves the Son, he could confidently say (John 3:35; 5:20). He made his home in the Father’s love, and it was the place of his sustenance and strength.
Now, as he speaks to his own disciples (John 15), he invites them into the circle of that love, to make their home there too by abiding in him and his love for them. Amazingly, we are also called to share in the warmth of the Father’s unconditional love. In fact, you might like to know that God even sings over us a song of rapturous love! The prophet, Zephaniah puts it, He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (3:17).
So difficult to grasp and embrace? Why do so many people find it so hard to receive such a love? For some, the reason lies in the fact they find it hard to feel the love of God. They believe in their minds but can’t feel it in their hearts. David Benner, one of my favorite authors, shared how, for many years, he substituted ideas about God for a direct experience of Him. His faith was more about intellectual assent than about emotional reliance or trust. Gradually he began to meet God not just in his head but in his heart.
For others, the issue of not being able to embrace love is often due to either a deep sense of being unlovable or a feeling of not deserving such love. When we have been damaged emotionally, and have perhaps been hurt or rejected by others, it is easy to import our feelings of mistrust into our relationship with God.
How can we start to receive God’s love? It begins, I believe, with the understanding that it is primarily a question of God’s love for me, not my love for him. The prior love of God must be our starting point; my love for him is only ever in response to his love for me (I John 4:9). I must fix my gaze upon him and think deeply about the unconditional nature of his love. Why does he love me? Because I am good enough? No! Because I deserve it? No!
He loves me because it is his nature to love. I can no more stop God loving me than I can prevent the sun from shining on me – and God’s sun shines on the just and the unjust alike (Matt 5:45). Love is not merely an attribute of God or an emotion that comes and goes according to my behavior; it is his essence. He loves me because he is love. However unworthy or undeserving I may feel, the fact remains that I am the object of his love. I may as well get used to it!