God is the author, creator, inventor, and very definition of love. It’s just not that he acts lovingly or treats you with love—he is love. Everything we know about love is because of God. But most of us don’t think this at all, and that’s usually because when we’ve been around people who know God, the message we so often hear is, “God is good. You are bad. You need to try harder.”
Here’s the difficult thing: some of that statement is true, some of it is half-true, and some of it’s not true at all. God is good. Yes, this is true. We start with the truth, but then we go quickly off track with the second statement: You are bad. Maybe not entirely bad, but at least a little bad. You’re not a bad person – you’re made in God’s image, you have his design, and so you are good. But you do bad things every day. You make rules for your family that you break. You buy a dress and wear it to the event and then return it to the store. You text while you’re driving. You steal your kids’ Halloween candy. You choose things, engage in activities, and hide all kinds of truths if nobody’s looking. Sure, you are kind of a bad person. We are all kind of bad people. That part is a little bit true.
But then we come to that last sentence: “You need to try harder.” That’s not true. If you’ve been taught that “trying harder” is the way to get to God, then you’ve probably only come to recognize that this gap is never going to close. You end up stuck because you can’t try hard enough to fill the gap, and when you’re stuck, you are most likely going to give up.
When someone tells you God is love, you probably think that’s not true. You might think, “Maybe he loves someone, but he doesn’t love me.” You know what’s in your heart and in your past, and you have come to believe there’s no way God could love you. You may think God is judgmental or irrelevant. You may believe he is a non-factor that doesn’t matter. But you probably do not think he is love.
Read the following statements and ask yourself what you believe about each one.
“I believe that my behavior impacts God ‘s love and acceptance of me.” You believe that if you’re good, God is pleased and loves you. Likewise, if you’re bad, he is displeased and withholds his favor.
“Difficult circumstances make me question God’s love for me.” When life gets hard, you feel like God is punishing you or making you pay for something you’ve done.
“I think God is angry with me about my past sins.” You are fairly sure he’s at least a little bit mad at you.
If you’ve answered yes to these, then you misunderstand God’s love.
If you misunderstand him, then you’ll start to avoid him. You will slink into church, if you go at all. You will avoid your relationship with God because you will believe he is all about conditions. You’ll be like the kid who hides from his parents when he’s coming home from a date with a girl he shouldn’t have been with at all. If you believe that God’s love is conditional, then you have insulated yourself from his transforming power. Actually, you probably misunderstand the nature of love itself.
If you believe God is holding a grudge against you, what do you think that does to your relationships? What do you think it does to your ability to grow and love? Think of what it would it be like if you fully understood and embraced the unconditional, unlimited love of God in your life. Think of the change that could happen in your life if you could walk every day with the knowledge and belief that the creator of this universe knows your name, loves you, and would do anything to be in relationship with you.
What if love really does come from God? What if God’s love is different than you’ve imagined? What if it’s wider, deeper, higher, and truly unconditional? What if you can’t earn it? What if it’s freely given to people who fail often? People like me, people like you. Think about what would change in your life and in your relationships, what would change in your level of discontentment. This kind of awareness of the truth could change everything.
We perceive love based on how we are treated. Maybe your image of an unkind God is the image of your angry wrestling coach in high school or the strict nun from your Catholic elementary school. What if you undid that in your psyche and in your heart? What if you understood that God is not easily angered, but he is protecting and—above all things—hopeful. It’s been said that if God has a fridge, your picture is on it. If God has an iPhone (and c’mon, I think we can all agree he has one), then your picture is in the camera roll.
If you have never known the power of God’s love, then maybe it is because you have never asked to know it. What if you asked, “Lord, is it true that your love is bigger than I’ve ever dreamed? Bigger than what I’ve wanted or even needed? Could you show me?” What’s the downside of doing that? Is there any risk involved? How about the upside?
Maybe God’s love is bigger than you have imagined, and maybe your life could be transformed if you gave him a chance to show you that he is indeed kind and patient.
What if you were loved like that? What if you slowly began to chip away at the idea that you’re not? Would you be willing to ask God to show you, and could you expect an answer?
This is the key to moving forward, the key to getting unstuck. This is truth.
* * *
Tricia Lott Williford lives and writes in Denver. She attends Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado, and many of her articles on faith are born from the conversations and teachings of her pastors, Phil Vaughan and Geoff Surratt. You can join the conversation with Southeast’s online services this weekend, and you can give God five minutes today with their simple daily reading plan.