Wednesday, January 22, 2014

for the love of God

I have spent a fair amount of time, and used quite a bit of online space, to speak to the parallels between the love God has for us and the love we have for our kids. Its a topic that is rich in fundamental, convicting truths that have allowed me to understand (a little better) the way that God loves me. But underscoring any and all of these thoughts along the way has been this nagging that I was missing (or worse, misinterpreting) something very important about God's love for His children. I want to take a few moments this morning to hash this out with some thoughts I have had floating in my head for a long while...

The love I have for my kids is a deeply rooted love. These kids are not simply a couple of awesome individuals whom I get to cherish, teach, learn from, and so on... we are connected in a much deeper way than that. The love that a parent has for their child is chemical, its visceral. There is a deep connection of knowing these little people because they are the fleshed out result of the romanticized thoughts of two people becoming one in the scope of Biblical marriage. For the man, this love calls onto the carpet a deep longing of protection and leading, loving your kids with all that we have. We see the best parts of ourselves intermingled with the best parts of their mother, and we know that if we properly care for this child, that they posses incredible potential. For the mother, it goes one step beyond into the truly visceral knowledge of the child. They have truly shared their flesh, their bodies coexisted in a way that its nearly incomprehensible. The mother has a natural desire that mimics the father's, but it goes well beyond this. This child is a physical part of them.
This beautiful realization of the love of our children depicts the great love God has for us... but does so incompletely. God does feel each of these points, I think, with each of us being made in His image. As His beloved creation, God demonstrates great love for us that do seem to be rooted in the depiction of love. I just don't think that it tells us the whole story. The issue with this type of love... its too automatic. It breaks too easily. If you don't think that't true, take a look around at the neglected, abused, aborted, and unloved children. If we rely on this kind of love alone from our God... we are opening ourselves up to missing out on the fullness of His love, grace, and mercy.

I have wrestled with trying to understand this better, and I have been readily redirected to remembering that God has also adopted us into His family. We are not fully born into the family of God. Though we are created to be in His family, we choose to live in rebellion of our Father and to live outside of the full benefits of this family. So, to reconcile us, God becomes our adoptive father. It is this adoptive love that makes the difference. An adoptive love fits much more completely into the idea of Agape love as a choice of the will to act to the benefit of another regardless of outside factors. I began to think that the love of an adoptive parent was the more true understanding of God's love.
The adoptive parent is unburdened by the chemical, flesh-bound love of a child that is so often failing in our world. It is a love that is based upon the choice to love a child that someone else was unwilling (or unable) to love. Their love is a pure choice of their will to act to the benefit of this child, regardless of who this child is or was. They have pursued this child, waited for this child, prayed for this child, and now receive this child with open arms into an intentional relationship. Its a great picture of a God who pursues the downtrodden, rejected, and broken... the intercession and prayer for those who are heavy-laden... and the calling home of these to a place of peace and rest.
The problem here is that we are speaking only to the pretty side of adoption. We see just as much (and sometimes more) pain, abuse, neglect, and harm done to a child in an adoptive home. The adoptive love is quickly and easily replaced by these other feelings, and it still falls short in helping us to find deeper understanding of God's love.

So, the natural love of a parent/child relationship falls short on its own merits in encompassing God's love... yet so does the adoptive love. Both are flawed views. But, here's the thing I have learned to appreciate most about God over the last couple of years... God is not like me.

In an exercise in gaining insight into God through the study of "The Saving Life of Christ" last year, we examined the attributes of God. The list consisted of things like: love, hate, grace, wrath, just, forgiving, etc. We all recognize that these are aspects of God that we see displayed throughout the Bible, and knowing that God does not contradict Himself, we must accept that He is all of these things. The problem we face is having to come to understand that it is not that God lives within a balance of these things on a spectrum, the way we often think of it. We often think that God just exists in a proper balance between love/hate, wrath/grace, justice/forgiveness... and that He then moves Himself to one end or the other of the spectrum based on the circumstances. We think this, because that often how we exist... we are loving, except when we become hateful, we are gracious, until you earn our wrath. But remember, God is not like you. He exists in the totality of each of these... He exists fully saturated with each, and perfectly so. His love is only perfect because His wrath is as well, grace is only fully gracious in concert with the perfection of His wrath... so on and so forth. So, in light of this, we must also be willing to conclude that God fully loves as not only a natural parent loves the children born of His own flesh, but also as an adoptive father making a willful choice to act to the ultimate benefit of the child He has chosen.

God's love is not simply on a spectrum between the two, it is the fullness of both. You have been created, in His image, place above all other created things, set apart to be His workmanship. He is connected to you viscerally, as a parent is to a child. But, we have traded that birthright, chosen to live outside of that family. So, He pursues us as an adoptive father. Willfully bringing us back into His family, lavishing us with a love that is beyond the chemical automaticity. He is not balancing the two, but expressing the two in the full perfection of God through Christ.

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