caught off guard by simplicity

All you need is love.
– John Lennon

As my dad and I slowed to a walk at the end of our run, our conversation morphed into a discussion of theology, as is often the case with our interactions. This time, the complexity of the doctrine of the Trinity vexed me. I said, “How in the world is a new believer or seeker supposed to understand this teaching?”

“They probably won’t,” my dad replied. “Which is why one enters into relationship with God through His love. Love is something people can relate to.”

His response caught me off guard. It was an obvious answer, yet my intellectual bent, strengthened by four years at a Christian liberal arts college, had become dissatisfied with the “simplicity” of God’s love.

To me, messages about God’s love seemed to always take the form of romantic clichés. I’ve started to tune out and even chuckle at phrases like “God is madly in love with you” and “It was love that held Jesus up on the Cross.” Pretty sure Jesus was held up (barely) by nails and his own fading strength.

Before I get written off as another heartless cynic … I hold nothing against feelings and warm fuzzies. Emotions are good and necessary for any healthy relationship. I have felt strong emotional connections to God before, experiences that have strengthened my understanding of His character and prompted greater commitment to Him.

But we often talk and sing about God’s love as merely something that makes us feel good, something that we all want.

Most days I don’t live like I want God’s love. I want His favor, His benefits, His nod of approval … in addition to the dozen other things I want that aren’t Him. Other days I feel so ashamed and trapped by my mistakes and shortcomings that I don’t want His love because it seems too generous to be real. Both my sense of self-sufficiency and my sense of unworthiness make me not really want God’s love.

But what if His love is something I need?

I think one reason I’ve become wary of “love that makes you feel good” is that God’s expressions of love don’t always make me feel good. If anything, they leave me confused, sad, ashamed. The greatest expression of love was Jesus Christ, who not only took on the body of an ordinary male but also took on the sins of humanity in a humiliating death fit for the worst criminals of his day. This knowledge does not make me feel good. It breaks my heart and angers me.

But it is precisely humankind’s inability to get right with God that reveals our need for divine intervention.

God draws people by His love because He created us for Him. It was love that propelled Him to make us in the first place, and it is love that transcends language and reasoning to settle into the depths of the heart and soul, into places are too real to ignore.

Like many other followers of Christ, I’ve gone through cycles of accepting, doubting and rejecting God’s love. I simply struggle to comprehend it. But I’m beginning to realize that regardless of what I’m feeling each day, I need God’s love. The world needs God’s love.  Not because it makes us feel good, but because it leads us to God Himself.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
– Jesus Christ (John 10:10 ESV)

By His love I am made clean.
By His love I am free from guilt and shame.
By His love I am confident to approach His throne of grace.
By His love I love my neighbors and my enemies.
By His love I make Him known.
By His love I take risks and accept mistakes, because He is my hope.
By His love I come to know the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty, the King of kings.
By His love I come to love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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