A Simple, Hard Truth: God Loves You
The world is not well. Though in a fallen world this is always true, the brokenness around us now feels particularly visceral. I need not provide a list of the ailments, catastrophes, disasters, etc. You likely know them as well as I, and each person experiences this brokenness differently in their own situation. So, rather than enumerate the maladies besetting us, I wish to focus on a simple, profound, foundational truth: God loves you. It is true that God loves everyone and everything, but something is lost when we focus purely on the universality of God’s love and not its particularity. God loves you, right now, in whatever situation you find yourself, no matter what you’ve done or not done, regardless of whether you feel worthy of that love or not. God loves you.
This might seem obvious or uninteresting to some, but I find it incredibly difficult to take seriously in my own life. And I think I’m not alone in this. Most of us know ourselves too well to think that we deserve anything other than punishment or perhaps at best begrudging acceptance from our all powerful, all knowing, creator. Yet what we receive is unqualified, undeserved, lavish love. To accept this love requires a kind of vulnerability, a breaking down of the lie that we tell ourselves—that we are individuals, that we are self-sufficient, that we don’t require outside help. Yet to accept God’s love fully requires that we acknowledge that it is in God that we live and move and have our being, that we are completely finite and dependent on God for all aspects of our existence (Acts 17:28).
Anne Lamott, the author of popular books such as Bird by Bird and Almost Everything, recounts in her collection of essays Traveling Mercies a time early in her writing career when she was struggling. Struggling merely to survive. She was fighting long-term problems with addiction, had yet to become financially successful as a writer, and was pregnant without the ability to care for herself and her child. When she announced her pregnancy in church,
people cheered. All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped. Even the women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me. And then almost immediately they set about providing for us. They brought clothes, they brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer, they brought me assurance that this baby was going to be a part of the family. And they began slipping me money.1
She narrates the beauty and terror in this experience. The love—and both physical and spiritual care—that she received yet did not feel worthy of receiving. Being the recipient of this kind of loving care, having one’s vulnerabilities made so frighteningly public, is difficult to endure. We focus, with good reason, on the beautiful, unquestioning acceptance the prodigal son receives from his father, but we often ignore how agonizing it must have been for the son to be received by his father, to have his egregious misdeeds stripped away by the father’s love. Remembering her deep vulnerability in the face of those who loved her, Lamott recalls:
I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame until I’d remember that wonderful line of Blake’s—that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love—and I would take a long deep breath and force these words out of my strangulated throat: “Thank you.”2
Here Lamott points us towards our human vulnerability and our difficulty acknowledging it. Yet, she also points us towards a profound truth about God. For, while God is not dependent or finite, at the heart of the Godhead exists a perfectly loving, perfectly giving relationship. Hans Urs von Balthasar, for example, argues that there exists an infinite distance between the three persons of the Trinity, and that this distance is only overcome through the self-giving, self-emptying love of each person of the Trinity for the other.3 Within the Trinity there exists a vulnerability, an inter-penetration of each person of the Trinity with the other, such that perfect unity exists within difference. Indeed, the unity of the Trinity requires difference, for the Trinity teaches us that it is love, not uniformity, which brings unity. The fact that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, and neither are the Spirit, enables the perfect unity of the Godhead through love. And Jesus announces (John 17:21) that we are invited into this unity, that we are to be united to each other through God’s perfectly self-giving love for each of us.
In closing, I want to briefly meditate on the Rev. Fred Rogers, or as we came to know him, Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and he saw his show as a theological outreach. Shea Tuttle’s wonderful book Exactly as You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers, includes an interview with Mr. Rogers, where he discloses his purpose on the show:
My relationship with God, which I feel is very comfortable and healthy, cannot ever be disassociated from who I am on the program, even though I don’t deal in overt theological terms. Our dialog with children constantly includes acceptance of someone exactly as she or he is at the moment. I feel that’s how God operates.4
Mr. Rogers lived his life constantly repeating this profound truth. God loves you. In a broken world where you might not feel loved or feel capable of loving, God loves you anyway. God gives of God’s own self to you, invites you into the perfectly loving perichoretic dance at the heart of the Trinity, for no reason other than that God loves you. Much follows from this fact of God’s love for you, but I challenge you to not move on too quickly. Take some time in these extremely difficult circumstances—where the world appears to be falling apart at the seams—to bask in your vulnerability, your dependency, your finitude, and the fact that all of these things place you exactly at the center of God’s infinite love for you. In a moment I will close, but I would like to invite you to do one more thing. If there is something for which you could use prayer, please leave a comment below with whatever information you’d like to provide about your need or concern. I will be spending time each night for the next week (and hopefully longer) praying for those I know that need a reminder of God’s love—that includes me—and I’d love to include you in my time of prayer and reflection. Now I’ll close with a reminder that my friend Jonathan Heaps posts periodically on Twitter, drawn from Mr. Rogers:
You’ve made today a special day just by being you.
There’s no one else in the whole world just like you.
God loves you (and people can like you) just the way you are.
(1) Anne Lamott, “Why I Make Sam Go to Church,” in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 101.
(3) A good introduction to Balthasar’s Trinitarian theology is Rowan Williams “Balthasar and the Trinity” in The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 37-50.
(4) Shea Tuttle, Exactly as You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019), 4.