17 October 2017

The Value in Godly Love

Tears flowed as she told me of horrid details of a tainted childhood. Struggling to articulate an ugly truth about her own father, the facts awkwardly came forth. As a friend, I sat and listened to her tragic story as she tried to come to terms with the bond of trust broken at an early age. Now grown, it appeared she was just then able to face a truth that had been long suppressed.

A decade would pass before the subject came up again. This time however, she reminisced about her father in a favorable way, and went on about what a perfect dad he was for her. She even said she was blessed to have a father such as him. Confused, I asked her about the things she had told me all those years ago, if she remembered the abuse and the pain? “This is positive thinking” she explained. “You must think about the good only, and block out the bad.” There was something deeper going on however; she was trying to find a way to love and accept her father without having to look at the dark side of what he had done.

I eventually realized she had adopted a new philosophy about what it means to love someone; “turn a blind eye to the ugly side of someone’s character, whitewash them, and only see the good.” This perspective launched an interesting conversation about love, and the way it functions, especially human love. It also raised questions about the way God loves.

We both acknowledged that humanly it’s impossible to take in all of a person’s characteristics, including their flaws, and then love them completely. We simply don’t have the capacity, we’re not equipped to see the whole person, let alone love and accept that person in all their complexity. Her way of dealing with this reality was to deny some of the unattractive and questionable aspects of her father, and cling to the few good memories she had. And who could blame her, any kind of abuse can put children into an emotional and psychological tail-spin that can last a lifetime.

As we pondered the insufficiency of human love however, we also explored how differently God’s love functions. First of all, he is not only capable of taking in the whole person; all our beauty, complexity and flaw, he really wants to. There is simply nothing that he doesn’t see in us that is not plain, clear and fully understood, and yet he still desires fellowship with us. God is not repelled by our flaws. One can’t help but wonder; how does he still love us and want a connection with all the junk that’s inside all of us?

Some try to answer this by saying; “When God looks at you, all he sees is a white, clean and pure vessel, and no sins or blemishes whatsoever. And that is how he is able to accept you and not condemn you.” Don’t be mislead by this theological gobbledygook.

There is something unsettling about that point of view. If you say you care for someone, but all their weaknesses, bad sides and sins are hidden, what good is that love? Would a love like that have any depth or meaning? Any real value?

Therefore, the value in God’s love is not found in its deniability of our flaws and sins, but in the full awareness of them. This may be best described in a wonderful irony I’ve experienced in Jesus; I have never been more aware of my own flaws and weaknesses, but also of God’s full acceptance and love. It’s a humbling place to be in, but a beautiful one. It’s allowed me to focus less on what I’m not, and more on who God is, a God of love. No truth has reached deeper into the depth of my own heart than this one.

It’s easy to think that God’s agenda is to clean us up as soon as possible, make all things right and to correct every flaw, every weakness. “And if he doesn’t”, we might reason, “God must be disappointed in us.” That’s not the way God works however. I’ve come to see a different agenda from God; He wants us to learn to know, believe in and completely trust in his love for us, even in our remarkably flawed state. In fact, that’s where love shines the brightest, where it means the most. He wants us to know why grace is so valuable; because it springs from God’s remarkably stubborn love for us.

Yes, God wants to rid us all of sin and flaw eventually, but if he cleans us up too quickly and corrects every flaw before we fully know and trust his love for us, we may never fully know that God’s love is the whole point. Not mere correction.

What’s even better news however is that we can learn to love the way God loves, and this is where life really gets good, and where our freedom is best found.

A Godly love allows us to accept people in their flaws and sins, but without condoning any sin or inappropriate behavior. Humanly, this feels contradictory. Theologically, it feels uncouth. But with God’s spirit, this is authentic love. As God’s love flows from us, it sets us free from having to negotiate whether someone is worthy or not of our love, a struggle that only imprisons us. Besides, nothing points the way to right behavior better than love and acceptance.

Humanly, we’ll never achieve this kind of love, only the spirit of God in us can rightfully accomplish this. And the more we know this grace filled love from our Creator, the more we’re able to take that kind of love to others. Some say forgiveness is hard, but when we’re filled with God’s love for others, it easy. Forgiveness in fact flows from a loving heart like water from a faucet.

After our conversation, the woman who struggled to remember her father both in truth and favorably, was off on a new journey of learning to love her father with a new kind of love; a grace filled love. She eventually discovered the joy of seeing her father in the true light of who he was, but in the new light of God’s love. She was now free to accept her father without having to condone his misguided behavior, or to cast him in some unrealistic light. Best of all she was now putting her trust in God’s love, a love we’re all in need of, one we all secretly want more than anything in the world.