Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring
you to eternal life.
--Jude 1:21 NRSV
A dear friend of mine who happens to be an evangelical Christian once greeted me jokingly, “Hey Chase, how’s it going in your liberal church where you only preach about God’s love?” At the time, I was a bit taken aback trying to get the joke. I guess she was poking fun and comparing my kind of church with her own in which her pastor would regularly preach about God’s judgment and the sin of humanity. Her perception of me, even in jest, got me thinking, “Do I only preach about God’s love? I don’t think so, but would it be so bad if I did?”
I believe the most difficult concept for most people to accept about Christianity is not that we are all lousy sinners but that God loves us, really loves us, really, really loves us. We are confronted at every turn by our own shortcomings, failures and imperfections. Most of our efforts in life are attempts to cover up what we consider shameful and don’t want others to see. The judgment we lob at one another usually amounts to what we like least about ourselves. Most people who aren’t narcissists are well aware of how unlovable they are at least some of the time. If we have a hard time accepting ourselves, since we know our own faults better than anyone, why shouldn’t we assume God has trouble accepting us too? After all, we can’t hide our flaws from God.
What if God’s love for us isn’t like our conditional half-baked love? Just think about the possibility for a moment that God doesn’t look at us with judgment, wrath, anger or disappointment? What if all the stuff in scripture, tradition and practice in Christianity about God’s judgment, wrath and punishment says more about us than it ever did about God? What if God, who is love, really does love us with no conditions? Wouldn’t that be a life-changing thing if we could truly believe that?
In his incredible book, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with LA’s gang members describes what it is like to see beauty and goodness in people often considered the worst of the worst. Boyle has learned through seeing the goodness in people, who have often done terrible things and who have had terrible things done to them, what God’s love is like. He writes:
God’s unwieldy love, which cannot be contained by our words, wants to accept all that we are—nothing of our humanity is to be discarded. No part of our hardwiring or our messy selves is to be disparaged. Where we stand, in all our mistakes and imperfection, is holy ground. It is where God has chosen to be intimate with us, and not in any way other than this. [Our] moment of truth isn’t in recognizing what a disappointment [we] have been all these years. It comes in realizing that God has been beholding [us] for all this time, unable to look anywhere else.
Boyle’s words seem too good to be true; there must be a catch. Yet, when we talk about God’s grace, God’s unearned love for us, isn’t that what we are really talking about? If we could truly grasp just how much God loves each of us without all the crap we believe about ourselves, wouldn’t that change everything?
Imagine trusting that God loves you so much that you could stop trying to prove your own worth to others.
Imagine not needing to judge others to cover your own inadequacies and insecurities.
Imagine experiencing how good it feels to be loved so completely that you begin to love others with less conditions and exceptions.
Imagine accepting you are loved so much that you can also grasp God loves each person just that much too, so you can lay down your own need to diminish them in any way whatsoever.
Just imagine what it might mean if you could begin to grasp being loved in such a way.
I’ve spent the last twenty years in churches that don’t preach hellfire and brimstone, gloom and doom, judgment and wrath every Sunday, but as much as we talk about God’s love, neither I nor the people in those churches with me don’t seem to really be transformed much by that idea. Really believing that God looks at each one of us and only feels love instead of disappointment may be the hardest truth to accept.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851