I’ve always known that God loves me – ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’
But I used to worry, does he actually like me?
I’ve offended God… but he still loved me in Jesus
I’ve saddened God… but he still loved me in Jesus
I’ve angered God… but he still loved me in Jesus
I’ve ignored God… but he still loved me in Jesus
Sounds like God’s pretty loving and like I’m pretty annoying.
I wondered, does he just ‘put up’ with me because he’s so loving. If he’s seeking to be ‘most glorified’ by demonstrating his love and saving me, does he actually care about me as a person? Does God just patiently bare with me – like a charity case – but would he actually be friends with me? Did he just save me by default, because he’d made a promise, but not actually care about me, Laura?
I know he loves me, but does he actually like me in an emotional, personal sense?
Then I’d worry I was being narcissistic again and annoying God even more. You really can’t win at this game.
What would it mean if God didn’t merely ‘show love’ to us, but if he actually liked us too?
It would mean that we’re not simply objects of his love or wrath – mechanisms for him to display his glory in some cosmic scheme. It would mean that we’re intrinsically valuable to him, instead of only functionally valuable for our capacity to glorify him.
So are we intrinsically valuable to God and does he like us?
Instrumental ‘love’ – loving people for functional reasons only – is not the love of the Bible. Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 13 of a person who ‘gives everything they possess to the poor’ but lacks love; sacrificing for someone does not constitute love. The older brother worked for the father for years, but when the prodigal younger son comes home it’s clear the older son never loved his father. Love doesn’t use people.
In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (a must read for all evangelical feminists – here’s a free legal audiobook), orphaned Jane is cared for by her cold Aunt, Mrs Reed. Mrs Reed provided for Jane, made sacrifices for Jane, but deep down she disliked Jane. Mrs Reed loved to reminded Jane how indebted Jane was to her, how she should be more grateful for her ‘love’. All the while Mrs Reed grew in her self-righteousness.
But God does not love us like some self-righteous charity worker. He actually loves us, he likes us, he’s emotionally involved. He calls himself a mother, a father, a husband to us. ‘He cares for you’ says Peter (1 Peter 5:7).
If God really loves us and actually likes us too, what would this mean?
Firstly, we need to be careful when we talk about grace.
I know a kid’s song with the line:
‘I don’t deserve his mercy, I don’t deserve his love and yet he died to save me, died upon the cross!’
I understand that it’s trying to get unmerited grace across to small children, but I could not think of anything more devastating. ‘I don’t deserve God’s love’. I’m of no intrinsic value to God. He feels no obligation to care for me. He probably doesn’t particularly like me.
If my dad told me ‘you don’t deserve my love, I only love you because I’m a good person’ I’d be devastated. ‘Does our relationship mean nothing?’ I’d ask.
This is because the whole paradigm of deserving or underserving is out of place in a loving relationship. It’s contrived to speak of deserving or not deserving love from my parents. It makes it sound like our relationship is a transaction or contract.
But the love is part of a right relationship between parents and children. It’s how it’s meant to be. When the prodigal son comes home claiming he is ‘no longer worthy’ to be loved as a son, the good father will have none of it. Nor will God.
Christian or non-Christian, we’re all related to God because we are made in his image. We love and are loved; that’s how he made us. He made us intrinsically valuable. He called us ‘very good.’ He even likes us! James argues that being made in God’s likeness as reason to show love to all people (James 3:9) – our relatedness to God gives us intrinsic value and likeability.
God’s mercy is unmerited, that is, it’s not earned by our good deeds or mad skills. But I’m not sure that ‘deserving’ is a helpful paradigm in a relationship.
So instead of telling kids they don’t deserve love, tell them they’re special, they’re valuable to God – not because they’ve impressed him – but because he made them in his likeness.
Secondly, I’d say beware of sermons which preach guilt and doom and only skate over God’s love in the last thirty seconds: ‘and luckily God sent Jesus to deal with us,’ as if he got so grumpy he had to send in Jesus. Or those sermons which preach the cross as part of a grand plan (which it is) but omit that it had something to do with God’s genuine heartfelt love for us; it’s ‘for god so loved the world he sent his son.’
I won’t get too sentimental, but will just remind you that God actually likes you! You’re not just a means to an end for him. He likes the sound of your voice; the way you smile; your sense of humour. His love for you is because of how he made you – to love him and be loved by him – and he wants to be closer to you. He cares about you in particular. He likes you.
Have you ever worried that God doesn’t particularly like you?
How do you think we can talk about sin and unmerited grace without implying we’re worthless or unlikeable to God?