If you have ever looked at a couple of hormonal teenagers and thought to yourself, “Those kids don’t know the first thing about love,” then you may have a fair idea of how God thinks about some of us: We hardly know the first thing about love. You only have to listen to the way we talk to know that this is so. We tell others that we want to be “used by God” as if love ever uses people. We boast of our “commitment to Christ” as if the substance of love consisted of making promises. We testify that God has sent us into the wilderness or made us sick to teach us things as if God would ever do such things.
And then we wonder why those listening don’t want to know Him!
“Whatever we believe about love, we believe about God.” So says Darin Hufford in his book The Misunderstood God and it is profound truth. God is love. If your definition of love has been filtered through our fallenness and twisted by religion, you will inevitably end up with a screwy picture of God. This is the chief reason why so many people who claim to know God are miserable. They have been told that God values us as servants and that He relates to us as a general relates to a soldier. “Relationship” for them is not about enjoying life together but following orders. It’s a monologue rather than a dialogue.
Tragically, a mixed-up view of God’s love has a devastating effect on relationships with others. For instance, there are those who worry that they may be loving their spouses or their children too much. They fear they may be turning their loved ones into idols and incurring the jealously of a vengeful God. Here’s Hufford:
I am always mystified when I hear people boastfully say, “I love God more than my wife.” The only way to love God more than your spouse is to love God through your spouse. Your husband or wife would be the direct recipient of the love.… The God who is love loves it when we love.… God is never in competition with your love for people! Any time you love a person, you are not far from God. (p.54)
Then there are those who love their family too little, possibly because they believe that family distracts from some higher calling, such as ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth:
Your love for people is the evidence that God is living inside you.… It shocks me to see so many people who honestly believe that God desires a separate and secret relationship with them aside from their family members. Many men will lock themselves in their prayer closets while their wives are in another room watching the kids alone. I call this adultery. (pp.54-5)
Religion has sold us a bunch of lies about the love of God. We have been told that God is envious, distrustful, needy, angry, distant, and that He keeps a record of wrongs. Fall for these lies and it will de-humanize you. You’ll waste your life trying to force-fit your dreams and desires into a religious mold and you’ll be utterly miserable. If you’re already miserable, or you just want a clearer picture of what God is really like, I recommend that you read Hufford’s book:
God never envies anyone or anything. He never desires to take for Himself what others have. Instead, He longs to give away all He has… He keeps no record of the wrong things you’ve done because He refuses to call you by the name of your past… God always perseveres, proving He is who He claims to be. He stands through the storm and walks through the fire simply to express His love for you. He will never fail you, never fall short, never fall out of love, because He’s made of love, the very source of it all. (pp.208-210)
The Misunderstood God is a two-punch book. The first punch – who is God really? – is a knockout blow. Hufford’s response to 17 lies taught by religion will leave you with a good sense of just how deeply God loves you and that alone is worth the price of admission. However, the second punch – how do we experience His love? – left me hanging.
The unwritten rules of love
Paul famously prayed that we would know the measureless love of God, for it’s in knowing His love that we truly live. So how do we come to know His love? Hufford says that God’s love is experienced in loving people. “When you truly love someone unconditionally… that flame of love inside your heart is God” (p.205). Okay, well how do you come to love someone unconditionally? According to Hufford, that kind of love comes as a result of knowing how much God loves us: “When I finally got it and knew that I knew that God was crazy about me for no other reason than that I was his son, I began to love others” (p.200). So the love of God is experienced in loving people, but the love for people only comes when you already know the love of God? Hmm. I am reminded of questions involving chickens and eggs.
Hufford’s examples shed no further light on this. Many of his stories revolve around his love for his children. Well I have found that it’s easy to love your own kids; the hard part is loving your neighbor’s kids, particularly when they are throwing a wild party in the wee small hours of the night. Jesus said, “Love your enemies” but how do you do that? How do you love those who condemn your ministry and write nasty things on your blog?
If I was an Old Covenant preacher, these sorts of questions would not trouble me. I would simply say, “You had jolly well better grow in the love of God, you lukewarm creature you! And you had better love your neighbor while you’re at it. Otherwise you’re in big trouble!” The Old Covenant, despite its faults, provides clear rules telling us what to do along with carrots and sticks to get us to do it.
But in the New Covenant we tread the unmarked path of freedom. We are given an invitation and a Guide… and not much else! When it comes to love there are no rules – “all things are lawful” – just opportunities. For a newly liberated slave all this freedom can be overwhelming. Tell me God, what I am supposed to do? And the God who loves you enough to die for you will respond, What would you like to do? Crumbs! This is most unexpected. Well, Lord. I want to do whatever pleases you. I want to decrease; you must increase. And God will do a face-palm.
Imagine if you married someone who spoke like that. I want to do whatever you want to do dear. It’s not about me, it’s all about you. That would be fun for about a week. I just want to be used by you. I just want others to know how much I am committed to you. Then your heart would break.
Happily lost in an undiscovered country
Jesus didn’t come to recruit servants but to give us abundant life founded on the Father’s unconditional love. For those of us used to being told what to do, this new life can be a little bit scary, but in an exciting sort of way. To paraphrase Star Trek, the love of God is an undiscovered country. It’s an adventure tailor-made by Him just for you. Paul said the love of Christ surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19). His love is so great it’s not reducible to rules or books. It’s easier to say what the love of God isn’t like, as Hufford does in his book and Paul does in 1 Corinthians 13. God is not proud, rude or self-seeking. He is not easily provoked and He thinks no evil of you. In short, God is nothing like the evil picture painted by religion. But when it comes to discovering the fullness of what God is like, well that’s the Great Adventure of Life!
When it comes to experiencing the love of God I don’t have all the answers – I don’t even have the questions! But I know I would rather be lost in His arms of love than found in the shackles of the loveless law. If that’s where you want to be as well, then The Misunderstood God will certainly help you get there.
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