I don't think I've ever been able to grasp that "God loves me". I think I've believed it theoretically, but in reality I've more often viewed God as a disapproving Father figure. When people speak of God's unconditional love or of His overwhelming, all-encompassing love, I must admit, I haven't really known what they were talking about (except in theory, and mostly in how it related to the overall gospel story). My experience with God has been more of one where I always try to please Him, but somehow I always come up short. Way short. Especially in light of salvation. It's like I have an enormous debt to God and I can never live up to His expectations. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and discouraging.
Brennan Manning is constantly talking about how much God loves us, about how God just absolutely delights in us. A couple of days ago I was reading something along those lines and I just started praying, telling God that I didn't know what that looked like. Wishing that I could see that in human form - that I could see a father who dearly and tenderly and expressively loved his children - so that I could understand what God's love is like. I'm a person who very much likes metaphors and I was longing for a metaphor for God's love for His children.
A few minutes after this reading and prayer I got up to go do something and in the process I stopped to love on my dog, Henry.
That's when it hit me: God loves me (and you), as much as I love Henry.
This may be hard for non-dog-lovers to understand, but I'll try to explain. I love Henry. He brings joy to my life. He makes my bad days good. My heart feels happy when I see him. I think he's absolutely beautiful. I know he has faults, but they pale in comparison to how much I love him. Sometimes I get frustrated with him, but it never lasts long because I love him so much. I don't want to be mad at him. I discipline him because I love him and because I want us to have a harmonious relationship. I discipline him for his own health and well-being. I absolutely love spending time with him. He doesn't have to do anything to impress me. I love him just because he's him. Even when he does something he knows he's not supposed to, I love him. The overwhelming feeling of love that I have for Henry never goes away. When I look at him I feel such tenderness in my heart. He is precious to me and I would do almost anything for him. When he does something for me (like bring me one of his slobbery, ripped up toys), it thrills me that he wants to please me. Sometimes I have to clean up after his messes, and it can be a little gross and dirty, but it doesn't change my love for him. I like everything about him - even the things that I don't like about him, I like, because it's him. I like it when he's happy. It makes me sad when he's sad. I understand that he is a just a dog, he doesn't think like a human does, he doesn't understand the things that I understand, and so I am gentle with him, I want to teach him, and I want to take care of him. If he ran away from home, I would not be angry with him, I would just desperately want him to come back. I would search high and low for him, until I found him, and when I did, I would be overwhelmed with joy and relief. I could go on.
I know this may sound crazy, to say all this stuff about a dog. But you have to understand what hit me - for the first time I think I could feel maybe a shred of what God feels for me. If I feel that passionately about a silly little dog, what does the God of the universe feel about His created children? I was humbled with gratitude that God would give me a picture of His love in a way that I could understand so easily. I don't have any children, but I would imagine it's the way parents' feel about their children (but even more so than a dog :).
I spent the rest of the day grinning because God loving me as much as I love Henry is almost too good to be true. Who am I to be loved that much? Love like that is life-changing. It took Henry from an abandoned-state, living in a cardboard box with several other puppies, to a nice warm home, with tons of people who love him, daily walks, and a food bowl that's never empty. What does realizing the love of God do for one of God's children? How will really knowing and believing God loves me change my life? I can already say that I'm enjoying life much more. And that I pray to grow more and more in knowledge and belief in God's love for us.
(Let me just clarify to say that I believe that true knowledge of God's love and salvation are only made possible through Jesus Christ.)
Listen, my brother and sisters, Jesus Christ came to tell us that it is more likely that [a mother] would forget her baby than that God could ever forget you! If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who ever lived (think about that for a moment) - all the goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength, and love - and united all those virtues in one person, that person would only be a faint shadow of the love and the mercy in the heart of God for you and me. - Brennan Manning
The great spiritual battle begins - and never ends - with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God's loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time - our brief chronological existence - but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity. - Henri Nouwen
Isaiah 49:15-16; Luke 15:11-33
- ...as much as I love Henry