Wednesday, February 6, 2008

No Matter What

When my children were little, we moved into a larger home. It was not only larger in size, but larger in mortgage payment. In order to survive the first couple of years until our income caught up with our purchase, we rented a room. Our first renter was a college student who attended a nearby school. He was very artistic, and made ends meet while in school by making wedding cakes. Big, towering, beautiful wedding cakes; they were truly works of art. Since I had no furniture in our dining room as of yet, I allowed him to use that room for the construction and decoration of the cakes. The children were under strict orders to not step one foot in that room, for obvious reasons.

Well, as you can imagine, with small children in the house, one day the inevitable happened. My renter came out of the dining room with murder in his eyes. “Someone has ruined my cake!” he roared, giving my children the evil eye. It wasn’t hard to find the culprit. My daughter still had traces of frosting on her cheek.

We took the infraction very seriously. Melanie was sent to her room after a spanking and not allowed to watch TV for the rest of the day (which is a long time for a five year old!). Her dad and I accompanied her to the renter’s room where she apologized for her actions, and he told her that he had forgiven her. Afterward, we had a serious talk with her about the incident. She was truly sorry, and shed many tears for her actions. In the long run, as embarrassing as the whole thing was (from a parent’s perspective), it only took about 20 minutes total for the renter to repair the cake. As far as I was concerned, the incident was over.

Two days later, I heard the renter talking to Melanie again. He was bringing up the incident, once again chastising her for what she had done. In fact, he was getting down right nasty about it all over again. I rushed to my daughter’s aid. In no uncertain terms, I informed this college student that forgiveness meant not bringing it up again, at least in a hurtful way as he was doing. It was time to let it go.

What made the difference between how he and I viewed the incident? He was renting a room. He had no emotional investment in my daughter. She was just a necessary part of the household in which he was living. I, on the other hand, loved my daughter more than myself. I would do anything to serve her best interests. I delighted in her intelligence, humor, and the adorable way she looked at life. She meant everything to me.

So it should come as no surprise that while our renter struggled to forgive Melanie, it was no big struggle for me. I loved her.

If we can possess that kind of love as parents, why is it so hard to believe the same kind of love exists in our Heavenly Father? In our head we often link obedience with His approval. When we blow it, we fear that He will not forgive, at least not until we have somehow made it up to Him. Our concept of being loved by God too often seems to hang on our actions.

Bad theology. (I am in seminary, so I know this for a fact.) God’s love for His people has never been conditional. While blessings sometimes are connected to obedience, His love for us never is. Ever. John wrote, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Did you catch the order? He loved us. Then we responded by loving Him. Paul told the Corinthians: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul goes on two verses later to use even stronger language. “For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”(Romans 5:8, 10, italics added)

So if His love for us, demonstrated by His sacrifice and free gift of salvation, was not conditional, why would we try to make it conditional once we have been saved? God does not change. Nor will His love.

A wonderful example of God’s unconditional love is found in Numbers 14:11. God had been working with His chosen people, patiently demonstrating His power and tender care. Yet they continued to be a stiff-necked people, refusing to live in submission to the God of the Universe. Wouldn’t you think that at some point God would have given up on them in disgust and turned away? Instead, He grieved. “How long will they not believe in Me? Despite all the signs I performed?” In spite of their unfaithfulness and lack of response, God remained in love with His people.

He loves us the same way. He can’t be anything less than God. And John tells us “God is love.” Certainly our sin does disrupt our fellowship with Him as we draw away from Him in our disobedience. He loves us perfectly, which means He will not allow us to charge down a path to our own destruction. So He lovingly puts up obstacles to get our attention and get us back on the right path. But while He does so, it is all done in love, with our best interests in mind.

Before the world began, you were on his mind
Every tear you’ve cried is precious in his sight
Because of his great love, he gave his only Son
And everything was done so you could come.
There’s nothing you can do to make him love you more
And nothing that you’ve done can make him close the door
Because of his great love, he gave his only Son
And everything was done so you could come.

Come to the Father, though your gift is small
Broken hearts, broken lives, he will take them all.
The power of the Word, the power of his blood,
Everything was done so you would come.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Hey Julie, great post! So often when we screw up we try and find ways to make it up to God, when all He wants us to do is cling to Him for the grace to go on. It's so paradoxical in our minds, but yet it is truly a great truth.