The thing about God is…He loves you. He does. Sometimes saying something in different ways makes it easier to believe, so try this: read each of the next three lines, moving the emphasis to where the CAPS are:
God LOVES me.
GOD loves me.
God loves ME.
Not matter how you say it, there is a period at the end of the sentence. It’s a stand alone paragraph. Maybe even a whole chapter.
If faith has a structure, this is the foundation.
We long for this to be true. It’s built right into us. King Solomon described “the burden God has laid on the human race. He…set eternity in the human heart…” –Ecclesiastes 3. If you’ve ever looked at your life and wondered, Is this it? this is why. We’re designed to experience God’s love, here on earth and later in Heaven. Things look and feel (and are) different when we step into this reality: Any capacity we have to give or experience love comes from God, because God IS love. –John 4:7-21. Our lives get better when we connect with that love personally, because that’s how we were created to function.
How do we know if God is real?
When people ask me about God, I don’t spend much time in formal conversation around that question. Talking isn’t the most helpful thing here, because the best way to know if God is real is to experience God.
Here’s what I mean:
Imagine if, back when my niece Lily was three or four years old, she had asked,“Aunt Trish, are bunnies real?”
I could have given her a children’s edition of Watership Down. Or told her about the history of rabbits. Or looked up pictures online (being very careful not to image search the word “bunny”). But the BEST thing would be for me to say, “Let’s go out after dinner and look for bunnies!” because I know our neighborhood is full of them, and they show up most nights after dinner.
To participate in this adventure, Lily would need to let herself be a little bit hopeful that bunnies might be real and that she could see one for herself. Put another way, she’d need to adopt a period of suspended disbelief. Room to experiment to see if what she’s been told might be true.
This is a rough approximation of what it’s like to explore God. I’ll tell you that He is real, and that we live in a world where He regularly reveals Himself. To participate in the adventure, you need to be a little bit hopeful that God might be real, and that you can experience Him for yourself: to suspended disbelief to see if it might be true.
This might sound scary, but it’s not. Despite what you may have heard, the primary message of Scripture is that God loves us. We’ll talk about this more in a few days, but the Bible is comprised of stories and letters, prayers, proverbs & poems, that tell us about the God who created us with love.
Here’s a quick synopsis of the high points: He likes us. He cares enough to correct us when we’re off-course, and stays close even when we ignore Him. He waits for us, and trusts that we’ll come around. As Brennan Manning points out, “This is the only God man has ever known who loves sinners.”
We don’t have to change to approach God. He knows we’re a wreck half the time and loves us anyway. He knows we’re doing the best we can, and He knows our best isn’t good enough. He has the power we need to heal and grow, transform and transcend. But even before that, God is SO DELIGHTED in us; it’s like He’s up there in Heaven, looking at you and saying, ‘That’s MY kid!”
In the first chapter of the Bible, we read how, after God created the earth & ocean, day & night, plants & animals, He created people. It’s quite the account, making it clear that He knew what He was getting into, and He was pleased with the result. “God saw all that He had made and it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31
And even though we’d already made an epic mess of things by chapter 4, this truth remains the same.
What is the alternative perspective we’re tempted to adopt?
It’s not “God doesn’t love us,” or even “God isn’t real.” It’s the prevailing suggestion that we’re on our own: That what we make of our lives is entirely up to us. That we have to take our best guess as to the proper balance between good & bad and make sure we stay on the good-enough side. That every time we blow it, we carry that failure around with us forever. And that if we try harder or know better, maybe we’ll improve our lot in life.
I’ve lived all of these. I still wrestle with them sometimes. I love the idea that the solutions to my problems are found in me. Sure, I have eternity planted in my heart, but I also have this tendency to want to be my own god. We’re built to worship something, and there’s a lot of pressure in the world to worship ourselves. I mean, we’re right here. Somehow that feels easier.
But what I’ve seen is that over the long run, all of this – my self-sufficiency, self-improvement, self-determination – fails. And then, when I bring the resulting mess to God, it fades into a sort of nothingness in the light of God’s love. My ideas and efforts aren’t ripped from my hands; they simply become irrelevant in the presence of a greater power.
Because God loves me:
- I’m not on my own. A God who loves, helps.
- I don’t have to guess at how bad I can be and still be good enough. A loving God doesn’t make you guess and struggle for balance.
- I’m not stuck with the weight of my mistakes. A God who loves us doesn’t leave us in the mud.
- I’m not limited to the best plan I can come up with for my life. I might not always understand God’s larger, better plan. But a God who loves me is comfortable enough to let me be mad at Him in order to bring about the life He created me for.
God’s love isn’t vague and amorphous. It’s personal and specific. Every time I live into this, it sets me free.
Want to explore this? here’s a great invitation from King David:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Here’s an experiment:
For the next few days, Live like God loves you. Consider: if this is true, what does it mean for you right now? Where’s the evidence? Ask God for a story – an experience of Him that is real.
Let me close with my favorite example of how this can go:
It was the first week of an exploring faith class at our church. We were off to a rough start: dinner was late, at least half the participants were there because they’d been strong-armed by someone else to come, and when I gave the suggestion to ask God for a story of how He’s real for you, everyone GLARED at me like I’d asked them to hand me cash.
We broke up into discussion groups, and this big guy named Chris announced, “The only way I’ll believe this God stuff is if a Honeybaked Ham falls from the sky and hits me in the head.” So we prayed for a heavenly ham.
The next week, he walked into class with a big grin. “You’re never gonna believe this,” he said. One day as he was walking down the street, he was pelted in the head by a dinner roll. The kind you serve with ham. “I looked around for a bird or maybe a kid in a window playing a prank,” he said, “but there was nothing even close.” From that point on, Chris was sold that God was real and loved him enough to show that truth with something lighter than a ham.
So if you’re curious, or hopeful, and willing to suspend disbelief for a few minutes? Ask God for a ham.
Let me pray for us:
God, thank you that you’re real and that you love us. Please open our hearts and our eyes enough to feel it and see it. Give us stories that point to you. Thanks in advance. Amen.
Let me know how it goes!