“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Let’s think about God’s love this week. Nothing could possibly be more important than the fact that God loves us. Nothing.
Think of the two options. If God doesn’t love us then we are absolutely lost, facing an eternal and hopeless fate. An implacably angry God, or a even a distant, uncaring God sends a shiver through my soul.
But if God does love us, then the clouds of hopelessness part, a shining eternity dawns, and a smiling God walks with us. God’s love infuses each day, and every moment, with divine optimism. We’re not alone, and we are deeply loved by the Creator.
The Bible is quite clear about God’s love for us. Whatever you believe about these ancient texts you have to at least admit they portray a caring God who loves His creation and especially the pinnacle of that creation: you. From Creation through the Cross and beyond the pages practically shout that God loves us.
But how do you know? It’s a fair question, one I’ve been asked innumerable times. I get it. Every hardship in life seems to be an a priori argument against the love of God. If God loves us then why are so many bad things happening? Why do we suffer if God cares? Anyone who has given ten minutes of serious consideration to eternal matters has wondered. How do we know God love us?
I have a story that proves to me beyond a shadow of doubt that God loves me.
A couple of months ago I conducted a wedding in Alabama. The bride is a friend of Lauren’s, my daughter, so she had been asked to be in the ceremony. My granddaughter Emily Grace also went, for girls tend to love these flowery affairs, and the bride is actually Emily Grace’s godmother. So there’s the lineup.
Lauren, Emily Grace and I drove over on a Friday, and had the rehearsal for the joyous affair the next day. As my daughter was a bridesmaid, this meant an all-day commitment on Saturday to getting hair and make-up and dresses and pictures, etc.
An aside here. Men have such an advantage when it comes to weddings, one for which I am deeply grateful. We rent a tux, have someone show us how to wear a cummerbund and put on cuff links an hour before, and basically just do what we’re told during the service. Very little thinking goes into a wedding for the men, which is usually a very good thing for the women.
Back to the story.
The last thing a 4 ½ year old needs to do for an entire Saturday before a wedding is be in the middle of a gaggle of young women who have been aggressively dieting for at least a month prior to the nuptials, and may have even gone through something akin to the weight-cut Conor McGregor endured prior to his last match. Again, if you need 6-8 hours to get ready for an event you’re likely to be just a tad anxious about your appearance, tending perhaps to compare yourself unfavorably to others, and likely to be impatient with the constant flow of questions from a naturally inquisitive little girl. I humbly suggest the slimmest possibility of just a wee bit of crankiness that could be magnified by said little girl.
My solution was to have Emily Grace with me for much of the day. We were staying at a country club so we walked around and watched the men play golf for a little while. A playground was ours alone and she climbed her first “rock wall,” slid down the slide, swung in the swings. We threw sticks and pine cones in the lake and ran up a hill until we fell down laughing. We went back to our room and watched cartoons.
After the wedding we made a brief appearance at the reception, then while her mom and dad stayed to visit and enjoy the entertainment we went back to the room. I bathed her, dried her golden hair, and dressed her for bed that she would not sleep in for several hours (she’s not the best sleeper!). I told her a story or two, then put a movie on for her as I began to read. Laying there side-by-side, the day grew quiet and still. I began to snooze. She was still going strong, though quiet.
Then through the dreamy swirls of my early rest I heard her say “I love you Gandy.” That was it. That was all. She didn’t break from her movie. We had not been talking. She was just thinking about her day and a drowsy granddaddy beside her, and life was good.
And I knew at that very moment God loves me.
Many of the most tender “love verses” and “love stories” in the New Testament come from John’s pen, particularly in his first letter. We think that John was an older man when he wrote this letter, and I like to think that in the warm embers of his life, after the fires of zeal had cooled a bit, John had a very clear vision of what God is. He wrote “God is love” twice. He wrote about what God’s love compels us to do and to feel. It casts out fear, creates confidence, enables our joy.
Then he wrote “We love because He first loved us” (4:19). That’s important. All “loves” are a reflection of the original, singular love of God. Each love is a reminder of God’s very nature. So when we feel loved, in any of its limitless expressions, we are feeling God’s love. God’s love is not a theory, or an idea in a vacuum. Somehow it has to become concrete.
Emily Grace’s love for her Gandy was an open window to heaven, a lens through which I was reminded of a smiling God who loves us both and took joy in the day we shared together. For that moment she was the incarnation. She loves because God loves. I felt God’s love through her love.
I want you to pause and remember a time when you felt loved. There were no doubts. All of life distilled to that moment when you felt loved, and life was good and right. I don’t care how long ago it was, that feeling is something God wants you to cling to. He loves you.
We don’t always feel this way, of course. Life gets too noisy sometimes. But remember. That moment when you felt loved was God’s touch, His assurance. You are deeply, eternally, joyfully loved.
Dr. Terry Ellis
October 15, 2017