Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Who Is The God Who Loves You?

God loves you. God loves you. God loves you?

Here's my opening admission. I'm going to raise a difficult question, but only answer an easier one.

I've had the first question in the back of my mind for a few years now. A friend brought it up where most important theological discussions happen—Momma G's.

My friend Dave had noticed his church leadership—or at least the worship service emcees—saying God loves you early and often. They were really driving this point home, proclaiming it several times per service, week after week. No matter what the sermon was, the emcee always began and concluded each service with this mantra, with no elaboration.

Dave wasn't sure what to make of these declarations, given that the emcee was speaking to a thousand people, and the emcee knew so little about who was listening. Who in the audience were believers, and who were not? Who was going to do something horrendous that week because they didn't have the Holy Spirit? Who, among believers and nonbelievers alike, was experiencing life circumstances that they couldn't see as reflecting God's love?

I don't remember exactly how Dave posed his question, but here's how it's taken shape in my mind:

How meaningful is it to repeat God loves you ad nauseam when you don't know who you're speaking to?

That's the difficult question that I'm not sure how to answer. Here's why I'm thinking about it today. Over the weekend a certain Instagram account posted the following two statements:

The most important thing you can know in life is that God loves you.

The most important thing you can do in life is love him back.
These statements have the same problems as the emcee's refrain. On Instagram, you don't know who you're talking to. Not everyone agrees on who God is. That's been true for a long time. Remember Pharaoh's initial response to Moses and Aaron?

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

It's more true in America now than in any other generation. If we want to tell people that God loves them, we need to tell them who God is and how he loves. That brings us to the easier question:

How do we describe the love of God, and how do we identify the God who loves?

The Bible gives us several succinct answers. For example,

. . . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Those 18 words tell us more than just God loves you.
  • What God/god are we talking about?
    • He's the God who's connected to Christ.
  • How does he love?
    • He provides salvation through Christ that we don't deserve.
Sure, Romans 5:8 requires further exposition, but even without any it goes further than God loves you. Let's try another one.

Granted, in my faith tradition we recited John 3:16 without much meaning. It was something you turned off your brain to say. But, at least it says more than God loves you.

Now, about John 3:16. One might argue that because God so loved the world, anyone can say God loves you to any number of unknown people with confidence that he or she is speaking both truthfully and meaningfully. Maybe that's right. Maybe.

To understand who makes up the world in John 3:16 and in what regard God loves the world exceeds the scope of this post. What I do know is that if you begin and end each service by quoting John 3:16, you're saying something about who God is and how he loves. You're saying something that relates to the gospel.

God loves you⁠—without any context⁠—isn't the gospel. It isn't the church's message to the world. Our message is: You need to be reconciled to God. Thankfully, there is a means of reconciliation. It is the gospel of Christ Jesus.


No comments:

Post a Comment