Have you ever noticed the way God relates to the world? He never dreams up a new vocabulary. He uses the one we use. He never communicates in a category that is unrelated to human experience. He communicates through it. Love is one of those categories. When we talk about love, we can all understand it to one degree or another—all of us love or have been in love. And it is no accident that the relationship between the Creator and his creation is also one of love.
However, have you ever considered the fact that God has a problem with his love? We can identify with his problem because we have all had the experience of trying to relate to someone who didn’t even know he or she was being loved. Again, God communicates to us in the language and experience we understand so we can, with as little presumption as possible, understand his problem. God was faced with a number of questions.
What do you do if you love someone and they don’t even know you exist?
Of course, you can try to get that person to notice you. I can remember the first time I was in love. I had no idea in the world how to meet this special girl until I saw her in a drugstore standing near the soda fountain. I decided it was my one chance; so I bought two milkshakes and took one to her. The problem was, she didn’t want a milkshake. Furthermore, she thought I was an arrogant stranger trying to bring her one without asking. She turned and walked away, leaving me standing there with two milkshakes in my hands. (I decided then that I didn’t want a milkshake either.) You must be very careful when you want to love someone who doesn’t even know you exist.
Perhaps the best way to get the person you love to notice you is to get someone else to introduce you. The prophets were the introducers. The God of the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, sent messages through them to a people he loved.
It is an old movie plot. The woman is either a minor actress in a play or a dancer in a musical. She has a secret admirer in the audience every night. Night after night, she receives a dozen roses with no name attached, just a card that reads, “From a secret admirer.” She begins to wonder who he could be; she dreams of what he looks like; she thinks of him often. And then, finally, the secret admirer asks her to dinner. They fall in love and live happily ever after.
That is what God did. We didn’t know him, but he knew us and loved us. He sent roses. Sometimes the roses were the prophets, at other times his gifts of life, joy and peace. Sometimes he whispered his love in the trees and sunsets. And then, in the incarnation, God signed the card.
What do you do if you love someone and they don’t love you back?
Unrequited love is a horrible thing, and the interesting thing about it is that the people who suffer from it almost always do the wrong thing. They manipulate: “I have cancer and only have a short time to live. Can’t you find it in your heart to give me a little time?” They use force: “I know you don’t love me, but if you don’t learn to, I’ll beat up your little brother.” They use persistence: “You have no choice. I’m going to pressure you and pursue you until you give up.” They use guilt: “I have loved you for so long; I have taken you places; I have stood with you and defended you. The least you can do is to love me a little. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.”
God is wise in the ways of love. He knows that, if you want to get someone to love you back, you have to learn to be gentle. You catch a loved one the same way you catch a mountain trout. You do it very carefully and very gently.
God is wise in the ways of love.
That is what God did. He knew that love takes a while. He knew us. And so he whispered. That is why he came as a baby instead of a king.
What do you do if you love someone and they aren’t worthy of your love?
A young man once told me that he had given up dating. I asked if he was shy. He said, “No, the problem is that I can’t find a woman who will please Mother.” In other words, his mother had decided no woman was good enough for her son. The Father God decided that too. The only difference between God and the mother was that she was wrong and he was absolutely right.
One of the problems with “celebrity Christianity” is that people begin to get the idea that God loves only those who are attractive and acceptable. If you are beautiful, charming or athletic, then God will love you. Let me tell you something: there are no attractive people as far as God’s holiness is concerned. When you measure beauty, charm and athletic prowess by perfection, there is simply no such thing as beauty, charm or athletic prowess.
How much truer is this when you measure human goodness by perfection. You have to cry out with the prophet, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
What do you do when the one you love is not worthy of your love? You don’t stop loving because worth is not a factor in love. Hosea learned that when he was commanded by God to marry the prostitute Gomer. That is what love is all about. You don’t explain love. Who knows why a princess loves an ugly frog? She just does. God loved us when we didn’t deserve it. At the cross, God said, “I love you this much” and Jesus stretched out his arms and died…so that we might be worthy of that love.
What do you do if you love someone and they aren’t ever going to love you back?
You have heard the saying, “When you love something, set it free. If it never returns to you, it was never meant to be.” There is something insipid about that, but there is some truth to it too. Love that is forced is not love. It is manipulation.
I can force my family to show the signs of love, but I can’t force them to love me…even if I’m bigger and stronger than they are. I can say to my daughters, “You love me or I will never speak to you again.” I can say to them, “I will hit you and hurt you if you don’t love me.” They may spend time with me, hug me and do nice things for me, but they will never love me. Why? Because love, in order to be love, must have a choice.
When Jesus came, God put the ball into the court of the world. He said…
“I love you. I have demonstrated my love, but I will not force it on you. You must come to me yourself. You don’t have to come with a gift, with purity or with a love like mine. But you must come. If you are thirsty, I will give you Living Water because I love you…but you must drink. If you are hungry, I will give you the Bread of Life because I love you…but you must eat. If you are tired and weary, I will give you rest because I love you…but you must lean on me. If you are sinful and dirty, I will forgive and cleanse you because I love you…but you must come.”
If Jesus has come, love has conquered hate, but there will be those who will never know love’s victory. They have placed themselves on the wrong side of the battlefield.
Despite the problems and regardless of the response, God came himself. He loved and keeps on loving. It is a love story: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Time to Draw Away
Read John 15:12-14, Romans 5:6-11 & Romans 8:1
In what ways do you experience God’s love for you? God knows you. He came for you. He loves you…deeply, intimately and forever. And it doesn’t stop there. You can’t love until you’ve been loved and then only to the degree to which you’ve been loved. You are loved…and then you pass it on. Love multiplies. Grace multiplies.