In listening to popular Christian music, I hear the word “love” a lot–not a surprising thing, given who they’re singing about. God’s unrelenting, unconditional, indescribable, and overwhelming love for us seems to be a prevailing theme throughout the genre. In at least one song, God’s love is compared to a force like a hurricane, and the recipients are pictured like a tree caught helplessly in its path with no defense against its power. I’m not sure that it’s an accurate portrayal of the love that Jesus demonstrated during His earthly ministry, but the picture in that particular lyric is not the only one that raises concerns for me.
Let me quickly affirm that I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t sing about God’s love for us. I delight to hear about God’s love, no matter what medium of communication is used. I rejoice in the truth that nothing the devil can throw at us, or that mankind can do to us, or that circumstances can subject us to can ever separate us from it. And in a culture filled with betrayal, deception, misrepresentation, and emotional manipulation, finding a love that is flawless, faithful, fulfilling, and eternally secure is refreshing beyond description, but our flawed human condition presents a problem.
A Flawed Reaction ~
We human beings have an unfortunate tendency to infer things from God’s words that He never intended. Jesus confronted that proclivity in Jewish religious leaders throughout His ministry, and the practice has continued unabated. For instance, a commonplace reaction to the unconditional nature of the love of God is that since it’s “guaranteed,” it really doesn’t matter what we do. Since God loves me so much, He would never want me to feel guilty about anything, right? I know that God will not love me more if I’m in church every Sunday than if I only show up for Easter Sunday (or maybe to air my opinion in contentious business meetings). God won’t love me more if I tithe than if I give the same $2 offering I’ve always given. If I cheat a bit on my taxes, indulge in a few lustful dalliances here and there, get a little drunk at Christmas parties, engage in some unethical practices to beef up the profits in my work, and have some “colorful” gutter language scattered here an there in my vocabulary, it won’t matter, because His love is “unconditional”. Like they say in the popular culture, “It’s all good.”
Something about statements like that doesn’t feel quite right, does it? It makes us want to say, “Wait… there’s gotta be a ‘but’ in there somewhere, right?” Does it really not matter to God what we do or don’t do? And does His love translate into “unconcern” for what we do or how we live? Is God like those grandparents who ignore bad behavior because they don’t want to hurt our feelings or disrupt our fun? Thankfully, that’s not the case at all.
A Shared Perspective ~
Obviously, God’s love is far too expansive a subject to do it justice in such a limited medium, but let’s look at it through one of His favorite metaphorical lenses; i.e., the love of a parent for his or her child. There’s an aspect of God’s love inherent in that description that the poets, singers, and “feel-good” merchants tend to overlook. Solomon addressed it in a relational context shared both by God and those created in His image. He said:
My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor detest His correction; For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV)
The writer of Hebrews quotes Solomon’s words and then adds this sobering elaboration:
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11 (NKJV)
Love Goes Farther ~
God’s love is a core element of His nature. It is the primary motivation for Jesus coming into the world and enduring the unspeakable torture of the cross. Love is the most profound demonstration of divine strength ever witnessed on this planet. It unlocks the loftiest ideals, inspires the most selfless acts, and produces the most powerful forces for good that human beings ever experience. But love is also willing to intervene, painfully if necessary, to protect others from harm and to facilitate their improvement.
Among several other admonitions, Solomon also warned about the consequences of a parent withholding discipline from a child.
He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly. Proverbs 13:24 (NKJV)
The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Proverbs 29:15 (NKJV)
A Better Metaphor ~
Rather than a hurricane blowing us over, God’s love is more like a tender, loving gardener gently but firmly shaping the growing limbs of His treasured young plant in the way He wants it to grow, even if the process “hurts” it temporarily, even if it doesn’t want to go in that direction. Later, the same loving gardener might need to do some pruning — and pruning is painful. But He sees beyond the pain and knows that there’s the glorious fruit to come. There’s always rejoicing in the end product, and it’s His love that makes Him willing to do the hard things it takes to get there.
The most glorious testimonies I’ve ever heard were laced with pain and heartache somewhere along the way. The most powerful monuments to His grace I’ve ever witnessed have been built on a foundation of tears. Every prodigal who ever came home knows that it wasn’t the parties and pleasure in the foreign land that brought him home. It was the deep hunger and hopelessness of the pig pen that changed his heart. Maybe we should consider writing more songs about that . . .
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “Love is the most profound demonstration of divine strength ever witnessed on this planet. It unlocks the loftiest ideals, inspires the most selfless acts, and produces the most powerful forces for good that human beings ever experience.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “God’s love is more like a tender, loving gardener gently but firmly shaping the growing limbs of His treasured young plant in the way He wants it to grow, even if the process “hurts” it temporarily, even if it doesn’t want to go in that direction.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The most powerful monuments to God’s grace I’ve ever witnessed have been built on a foundation of tears. Every prodigal who ever came home knows that it wasn’t the parties and pleasure in the foreign land that brought him home.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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