“God must hate me,” thought George. He’d had a miserable day spiritually – lashing out at his wife at breakfast, making a stupid mistake at work, and spending ten minutes on a porn website in the evening. He was supposed to be a committed Christian, and yet . . . He felt a sense of despair and self-loathing.
Christian, have you ever doubted the love of God? Ever wondered if He’d rejected you? Despised you? I have a strain of this tendency in myself that I’ve had to deal with for many years. It’s been a source of discouragement, since I can find plenty in myself that doesn’t match God’s perfect standards. Yet this doubt, though it may seem like a helpful motivation to obedience, is actually an obstacle to intimacy with God. Let me define “love” first. “Love” means that God cares about us and wants what’s best for us. This leads to our first question:
How does doubting God’s love hinder my relationship with Him?
1. Doubting God’s love builds our relationship on a false premise
Why do you think God loves you in the first place? Is it because you’re so loveable? Is it because you’ve earned His love? It’s not. It can’t be. “We all like sheep have gone astray” (Is. 53:6), “There’s no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10)”. God’s loving heart toward us is not based on who we are, but on who He is. Period. “God is love”(1 John 4:8).
2. Doubting God’s love creates instability in the relationship
How can we ever relax and enjoy God when we’re never quite sure that He’s loving us at the moment? When we think we’re doing well, we’ll kind of relax, but not entirely, since His judgment of “doing well” may be different than ours. And when we’re failing, we’ll feel insecure and distant.
3. Doubting God’s love takes the fun out of the relationship
God’s meant to be, among other things, our best friend. But if we’re insecure about His love, we lose the freedom and joy and stability that a best friend can provide (especially if the best friend is God). How can we “delight ourselves in the Lord” (Ps. 37:4) if we’re never quite sure that He’s fully committed to us?
4. Doubting God’s love can cause us to give up trying to draw close to Him
Who wants to approach a God who may be looking on us with loathing or disgust or even indifference? Where’s the motivation in that? So even if we maintain some sort of relationship with God we may only put limited effort into it.
5. Doubting God’s love may cause us to constantly focus on trying to earn it
Our whole life can be spent striving to be good enough to be loved by God. Not only does this create the instability mentioned above, it also puts the focus squarely on ourselves and our performance rather than freeing us to glory in God and give more loving attention to others.
The unconditional love of God is the only firm foundation possible if we’re to enjoy an intimate love relationship with Him. Starting with Romans 8:38, Paul makes this astounding statement: “38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Notice the words “anything else” here? That would include us. Yet many believers find it hard to completely relax in God’s unconditional love and reap its benefits.
Why is it hard to rest in God’s unconditional love?
1. It’s hard to rest in God’s love because that‘s not the way the world is around us
We grow up in a world of conditional love. I’m not suggesting that no one loves us well, but every human relationship has its limits. Marriages can break apart or fade. Even good friendships can be ruined. Many, if not most relationships are based on a sort of conditional love.
2. It’s hard to rest in God’s unconditional love because it wounds our pride
There’s a part of us that wants to believe that we’ve earned God’s love – that He loves us because we’re “good folks”. But we’re not “good folks”. At our peak, we’re all still spotted with the ugly cancer of sin, whether we recognize it or not. God’s love for us is not an earned paycheck. It’s pure gift. That’s humbling to accept, isn’t it?
3. It’s hard to rest in God’s unconditional love because life is often painful, confusing, and difficult
Would a loving God allow me to get cancer, to lose my marriage, or those I love to suffer? There are other difficult biblical and philosophical questions which cast doubt on God’s love. We feel as though we, if we truly loved someone, would do things differently.
4. It’s hard to rest in God’s unconditional love because He often seems invisible and silent
One of the ways we prove our love to others is by directly interacting with them. We make statements and they reply. We ask questions and they answer. For most of us, most of the time, I’m willing to bet that this is not the case with God. Yes, we have the Bible, which is fantastic, but it’s not the same as actually hearing God’s voice, seeing Him, or at least clearly sensing His presence. Usually, at best, we sense Him around the corner and down the street.
5. It’s hard to rest in God’s unconditional love because sometimes we ourselves create a sense of distance.
If we’re choosing to live sinful, compromised lives, our ability to believe in God’s love diminishes. We feel guilty and uncomfortable with God when we deliberately rebel. The Enemy, Satan, also exploits our sin, hurling darts of doubt. “How could God love someone as rotten as you? He’s given up on you!”
6. It’s hard to rest in God’s unconditional love because we confuse His love with His favor
I want to discuss this more in a later column. Let me just say that God may love us unconditionally without necessarily being pleased with our lives at the moment.
7. It’s hard to rest in God’s unconditional love because we’re not born again
Here I want to give a possibly controversial conclusion. I believe that, while people are still on earth, God deeply cares about all of them and wants the best for them, including salvation. All receive unconditional love. Those who reject salvation, however, place themselves in an awkward situation when they die. God’s holiness requires that He cannot bring unsaved people into heaven and that they must face the painful consequence of their sin – which is living in Hell, a place of eternal pain and separation from Him. It’s not His preference, but, in a sense, He has no choice. His unconditional love is not shown to the residents of Hell, despite attempts to argue to the contrary, i.e., “He’s just letting them have what they choose, not forcing them to be with Him.” I don’t buy it. So if you’ve never received Christ as your Savior, and want His eternal unconditional love, I would encourage you to do that today. Next time: How to learn to rest in God’s unconditional love.