Monday, October 16, 2006

The Love of God

By Garry J. Moes
Someone asked me a few days ago: "Do you always feel the love of God?"

The question caught me somewhat off-guard, but after a moment’s reflection I answered: "Yes, but it’s not really a matter of feeling; it’s a matter of knowing." The truth is that there are many times when I have felt that God is far off ... that He is not listening when I pray ... or He is failing to take note of my hurts or needs. There are times when I sense that He is displeased with me. There are times I sense that He is even punishing or chastising me. Are these sensations evidence that God has stopped loving me or is withholding His love or maybe never loved me?

Perhaps you have had such feelings. Perhaps in your times of suffering or loneliness or in the troubled nature of your mind you have wondered if God truly is a God of love, or at least whether He loves you.

Two of the most important people in the Bible seem to have had similar feelings at times. One is the Psalmist David, the great king of ancient Israel. Consider some of his thoughts as expressed in Psalm 22:1-21.

Notice the structure of this Psalm.

The Psalm has several sections which almost have the character of a question-and-answer dialogue the psalmist has with himself. In each grouping of verses, David first expresses his feelings of being abandoned by God or wondering where God is as he suffers from oppression by enemies or experiences various forms of severe suffering. But in between each of these expressions of woe, David answers his own feelings of separation from God by reminding himself of who God is and what He has done in the past to deliver David or God’s people. (EXAMPLES: verses 1-2 vs. 3-5; verses 6-8 vs. 9-10; 11-18 vs. 19-21).

In each of the contrasting groups of verses, we see David expressing his feelings that God has withdrawn His love and protection but then RECOGNIZING that God’s love can actually be seen and known in the fact that God delivers His people. God’s love is something that can be KNOWN from His deeds of deliverance even if it may not be FELT in our sentiments and emotions.

I mentioned earlier that there were two key people in the Bible who struggled with the feeling that God had abandoned them or had fallen silent in His expressions of love toward them. One of them was David, as we have just seen. The other was Jesus Christ Himself. It is extremely interesting that Jesus quoted this very same psalm of David — Psalm 22 — while He was hanging on the cross. The psalm is clearly a prophetic psalm containing several obvious references to the trial and death of Christ. Among the seven things we know that Jesus said while on the cross, one of them included the first words of this psalm: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

How astonishing that the very Son of God, in the very moment He was accomplishing the greatest act of love and deliverance in human history, felt that He had been abandoned by His Father, whose will for the salvation of sinners Jesus was obeying! Only a few hours earlier, Jesus had told his disciples: "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Jesus said this to remind His followers, including us, that the love of God finds its truest expression in the salvation of His people from the power, presence and punishment of sin. Salvation, rescue, deliverance are God’s way of showing His love. That salvation is an accomplished historical fact which cannot be erased even when our emotions or feelings suggest to us that God does not love us.

One of Jesus’ most beloved disciples, the Apostle John, made it very clear in his First Epistle that this is how we should look at the love of God.

In the I John 4:8, the apostle tells us flatly that "God is love." Immediately thereafter, in verses 9 and 10, John goes on to say this: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation [or payment] for our sins."

This same Apostle John, in his Gospel, reports a conversation Jesus had with an inquirer who wanted to know how one can acquire eternal life. In that conversation, Jesus said, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life."

You see, trusting in Jesus and relying on His sacrifice as an atonement or propitiation or payment for our sinful rebellion against God grants to us the full benefit of God’s Supreme Act of Love. A fact we can rely on whether we feel it or not!

St. John, in the 4th chapter of his First Epistle, makes this clear when he says, in verses 16 and 17: "So we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." Note that last phrase: "God [who is love] abides in him."

So, you see, it is the KNOWLEDGE of God’s work of salvation which must constantly assure us that God loves His people. And since His great work of love is an accomplished, historic fact, we can never suggest to ourselves that God no longer loves us.

You may be saying, however: "Okay, I can acknowledge the FACT that God loves me; but why am I not EXPERIENCING that love right now or from time to time as I go through the daily stresses or sufferings of my life?"

Let me suggest three possible reasons why, despite the fact of God’s love, we may not be experiencing His love.

First of all, we must recognize that there is a connection between God’s love and our responsibility to show our gratitude to Him for His love by doing what is right. Particularly, in this regard, St. John draws a direct connection between God’s vertical love toward us and our horizontal responsibility to love one another.
Consider a few other verses from the 4th chapter of John’s First Epistle:

Verses 7 & 8 say this: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because ‘God is love.’"
Right after then telling us that God’s love is made manifest or evident in the sending of His Son to pay for our sins, John goes on to say in verses 11 & 12: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us."

Again, in verses 19 through 21: "We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

If you are not experiencing God’s love, is it possible that there is an impediment caused by your resentment or hatred or passive lack of love toward someone in your life?

A second possible reason that we may not be feeling God love is that we may have a misunderstanding of what love is. We in our day and age have been greatly influenced by a philosophical movement which arose in the 19th century. That philosophy is known as Romanticism. Without going to great lengths to discuss what Romanticism is or teaches, let me just summarize it by saying that one of its key points is that love is a feeling ... an emotion ... a sentiment. In romantic thought, love is very subjective. This contrasts with the historic and Biblical view that love is primarily objective ... it is a knowable fact based on knowable deeds which seek the good of someone else as its object.

Perhaps you have seen the movie Fiddler on the Roof. At one point in the movie, the main character, a Russian Jew named Tevye is having a conversation with his wife Golde, after noting that their daughter wants to marry a poor man simply because she loves him. Here’s how the conversation goes in a song called: "Do You Love Me?"

Tevye: It's a new world... A new world. . . . . Love. . . . . . Golde... Do you love me?

Golde: Do I what?

Tevye: Do you love me?

Golde: Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You're upset, you're worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it's indigestion.

Tevye: Golde, I'm asking you a question.... Do you love me?

Golde: You're a fool.

Tevye: "I know..." But do you love me?

Golde: Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes,
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house,
Given you children, milked the cow,
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

Tevye: Golde, The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day;
I was scared.

Golde: I was shy.

Tevye: I was nervous.

Golde: So was I.

Tevye: But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde,
Do you love me?

Golde: I'm your wife.

Tevye: "I know..." But do you love me?

Golde: Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him,
Fought him, starved with him,
Twenty-five years my bed is his,
If that's not love, what is?

Tevye: Then you love me?

Golde: I suppose I do.

Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.

You see, Golde understood that love finds its best expression in doing deeds of service and kindness. Perhaps Tevye was looking for some romantic sentimental sign, but in the end he understood also that experiencing love is not, in its most fundamental character, a matter of sentiment but of sacrifice and shared experiences with another.

That’s how it is with God’s love. If we feel like He is not loving us, perhaps it’s because His love is not first of all a matter of feeling, but a fact — His accomplished work of love in Christ Jesus.

Many Christians think romantically about God’s love. They engage in all sorts of religious practices to force some emotion or ecstasy or some exciting feeling into their worship. But when the fire goes out, they think God has lost interest in them; and they then lose interest in God.

Romantics are people who must have passion and excitement in their relationships or else they think there is no love there. We are learning from modern science that passion is largely a result of body and brain chemistry. Chemicals such as dopamine, seratonin, adrenaline, and various hormones are the things that produce passion in life’s experiences and relationships, and when our relationships go cold, we say, quite correctly, that the chemistry has gone.

Sometimes we conclude that because there is little excitement or passion in our relationship with God that the love is gone. But, as we have seen, this is a mistaken conclusion. Because the love of God is an objective fact and not so much an emotion.

A third reason we may not be experiencing the love of God is suggested in the 13th verse of the 4th chapter of St. John’s Epistle: "By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit."

This tells us that we experience God, including His love, through the indwelling of His Spirit. But Ephesians 4:30 warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The surrounding verses list a large number of sins which, if they are present in our lives, will grieve or quench the Holy Spirit within us. I Thessalonians 5:19-22 warns us, "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."

So perhaps we are not experiencing the love of God because there is some prevailing sin or hidden sin in our lives. We need to confront that sin, confess it and surrender it to Christ, who has paid for it in His great act of love on the cross.

Let me add a fourth possible reason why you may not be experiencing the love of God. This is a hard one for me to say. But it is a real possibility. Here is it: You may not be experiencing the love of God because God, in fact, does not love you. This may sound shocking in a world in which many teach that God loves everyone, including people who hate God and live their entire lives right up to the time of their deaths despising God and rebelling against Him. But the Bible makes it very clear that there are some people whom God hates. The Bible says that God’s wrath or anger abides on all who remain in their sin.

Let me hasten to add that if you long for God’s love, you are not one of those people whom God hates. As we saw earlier, we cannot love God or even long for God’s love unless He has first loved us. But if you are still living your life apart from God and have never confessed your sins and sought His redemption, God’s wrath remains on you, and you will never know or experience His ultimate saving love. If you are such a person, I urge you to make things right with Him now and begin to enjoy the benefits of His love, both now and in eternity.

There is a wonderful hymn that begins with these words: "O love of God, how strong and true, eternal and yet ever new..."

The hymn goes on to say:

"We read thee (i.e., God’s love) best in Him who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.

We read thy pow’r to bless and save,
E’en in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection light
We read the fulness of thy might."


This article was first presented as a mediation during worship services at two nursing homes in Sonora, California.

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