Each one of us craves the joy of being seen, known, and loved. We might pursue the answer to this longing in wrong ways, but it is impossible to repent of the desire to be loved because it is part of our created design. We were made to give and receive love. The desire to be noticed and affirmed in the hope that people will indeed love us has been digitized and monetized through social media. Likes and followers can become a substitute for love; a drug of approval that we always want more of. Meaningful, loving relationships in the context of family and community will always be vital to our well-being. Yet what if we could be set free from the compulsion for affirmation that can so often dominate our motivation in ministry just as much as it does the world?
What if the wisest, most powerful Identity who has ever existed in the heavens or on the earth – the One who created all of the vast beauty and intricacy of our world - actually loved you? We think we believe this. All of us have John 3:16 imprinted on our memory. While it may be true that we sincerely affirm this truth, I know for my own heart there are actually acres of unbelief over this reality. If we are really honest - raw and unfiltered - I think most of us are doing well if we believe that God has a mildly positive disposition toward us. That isn’t what the Bible says.
Instead of cautiously easing into the idea that the infinite, uncreated God might really like us and care about us, maybe by going all the way to the other extreme and diving off the cliff we can find our way into the truth. The night before Jesus died on the cross, He uttered two of the most astonishing sentences in the Bible:
“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23)
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9)
God does not love us fractionally. He does not love us tepidly or begrudgingly. God doesn’t love us because that is what God is supposed to do. It isn’t His obligation to love us now that we have come to faith in Jesus. He loves us like He loves His Son! How much does God love God? How much does the Father love His sinless, perfect, matchless Son who is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature,” as Hebrews 1:3 says? Adding to these gloriously inscrutable questions, earlier that evening Jesus had told His disciples that He loved them – the ones who all were going to forsake Him that night - as the Father loved Him!
Our weak hearts and unrenewed minds recoil and rebel against accepting this. It isn’t supposed to make sense, and it certainly doesn’t come naturally to us. In fact, it is impossible for us to comprehend or experience apart from revelation. We are not going to ascend this mountain through our own strength or intellect. This is precisely why Paul prays the way he does in his letter to the Ephesians:
…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge… (Ephesians 3:16-19)
We require God the Spirit to strengthen our inner man with divine might in order to lay hold of the truth that we have somehow been swept up into the very love of God the Father and God the Son. The heaviness of our emotions, the abuse and mistreatment of our past, and the difficulty of our circumstances all scream the opposite message. The truth of our existence, however, is that we are immersed in Trinitarian love. This isn’t hype or pitch - this is real.
We can and must sing of this love, but we must be keenly aware that no language, however eloquent, could ever begin to capture the substance of what we are peering into. We need spiritual understanding (Col. 1:9) - revelation that is so transformative that we can cry with David, “your love is better than life!” It might not seem reasonable to my feeble mind, but if the Lord actually feels this way then I don’t want to live on the fringes of it. I want to aim my life toward the burning center of divine affections and get lost in the awesome, indescribable love of God.