By Brian Waple
To be honest, I absolutely adore my granddaughter, Dylan. I have adored her from the day she was born, and always will. Even with all her awkwardness, there is something special about her that evokes strong feelings in me that are indescribable. Now I know that as she grows older, there will be times of testing. But my love for her will never change. No matter what she does or doesn’t do, I will always love her.
Isn’t it the same with God and us? God knows our past, present and future, and yet He still loves us. In fact, he is absolutely crazy in love with us. Did you know that the word “love” appears close to 550 times in the NIV translation? (By the way, the number of times the word “love” is used outnumbers the word “sin.”) What does that say about God? John 3:16 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (NLT). When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind … a second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Why so much emphasis on love? If we just obey as we’ve been commanded, isn’t that enough? If we attend the weekly worship service at church, join community groups, pray regularly, read our Bibles, lead Bible studies, help out at activities, disciple others … isn’t that enough? The people of Israel thought so. They thought that all God required were their sacrifices. In Micah 6, we read, “What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?” Micah goes on to say, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” It is a heart of love for God and others that enables us to do these things. Our obedience to God should come out of our love for God, not the other way around.
I guess my preoccupation with love comes out of a book I’m reading by Dr. David Benner called Surrender to Love. In discussing the story of the prodigal son, Benner writes, “Part of me — and I suspect part of all of us — wants to earn the Father’s love. In the story both sons fall into this trap, and both have to learn the same lesson. The Father’s love reflects the Father’s character, not the children’s behavior. My behavior — whether responsible or irresponsible — is beside the point. Responsible behavior does not increase the Father’s love, nor does irresponsible behavior decrease it” (p. 20).
I remember a conversation I had with my sister Whitney, who struggled with alcoholism. Looking back on her life, she asked, “How could God possibly love me after all things I’ve done and continue to do?” I told her about one of my favorite Christian authors, the late Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest and chronic alcoholic. I told her about Manning’s belief that God continued to pursue him, even in the midst of his wretchedness, because of God’s love for him and the grace God extended toward him. I told her that God continues to pursue her, because He loves her and extends that same grace to her. She just needed to acknowledge her need for Him — that in spite of what we do and because He loves us, God never gives up on us.
We were made to be in relationship with others and we were made to love, because we were created in God’s image and that is God’s character. And here’s the really crazy thing: even the love I feel for Dylan, or Cindy, or other members of my family cannot come close to how much God loves me. Can we love as God loves? I don’t think we can in this life; but I believe there is a long-forgotten part of who we are that desires to love that way. And one day, I believe we will. God has pursued humanity from the beginning because He has loved us from the beginning. Although at times our actions and behaviors can grieve God, He continues to pursue us because of the immeasurable love He has for us.