Recognizing the God Of Love

Truly, what is the purpose of belief in God if the God whose existence that belief acknowledges knows nothing of love, or, more intrinsically, is not itself love incarnate? 

OUR NATURAL STATE OF NEED FOR LOVE

One of the deepest longings we share as humanity is to feel loved unconditionally without criticism or limitation. Many people get caught up in the belief that the source of love derives from within us, as if unconditional love is innate to human beings. But how can this be so if our first desire upon entrance into this life is to have our own needs satisfied? As babies, we are 100% dependent upon parental guidance, provision, and what else—love. Without love and affection, babies don’t survive. Perhaps stated more accurately is how our most innate need is to be loved, but not that love is so innate to us that we naturally breathe it out like God did into Adam’s nostrils, giving the first human being his first breath of sentient existence. What does this matter, why point this out? One of the major arguments of God’s existence today is that He is not a God of love, and if that is so, He must not exist. Where did this distortion come from?

As a sentient race, we are birthed with the malleability to be influenced and shaped by peers, family, culture, and time. When we’re old enough to recognize it within ourselves, we eventually start a search on a road that no one else can pave for us but God. Little do we know, however, that God is the one who paves it, and less likely are we aware when first starting that ultimately it is our need for God to be real which draws our attention to our need for this search.

THE IMAGE OF GOD IN A CORRUPTED WORLD

When considering the atrocities in this world—ranging from poverty to human trafficking and terrorism—evil looks towering and imperious compared to love, forgiveness, peace, or hope. How can the image of an unconditionally loving God fit into the mold of a corrupted world without seemingly denuding the strength of His power like a moth to the flame of the terrors of the world? Or, put differently, how can we claim to see a loving God in full control despite the chaotic state of the world? Very simply, God will not control a human being, but He can soften a heart to listen, and let a person’s heart decide whether they want to join in relationship or resist and stubbornly oppose the invitation into a changed course of action. Basically, a terrorist has the same choice as anyone to deny evil its privileges and to accept God’s command to love and serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. Terrorists, of course, are threatened for their very lives in the face of such a name. The choice then becomes whether or not faith in a man who claimed to be God is worth death in the face of terror, hatred, power, corruption, and the promise of redemption through martyrdom.

GOD’S OMNIPOTENCE

Now, understanding this may help draw empathy for men and women in the face of terrorism perhaps, but it does not justify the results of those who ultimately choose terrorism over faith in a life of love and service in Jesus’s name. How then can we accept the claim of God’s control over the world? Who is control is defined by who is able to dispel evil by delivering justice; not by doing evil, but by acting righteously. The book of Revelations, though intimidating only when it is read without context, is a book filled with pictures of God’s coming wrath, which many wise people understand is the reaction of the love of God—that just as parents would do anything to protect their young ones from harm out of love for them, His promises are to for once and for all eradicate sin and evil from existence. This truth speaks not only of the love of God, but of his omnipotence.

WISDOM AND HONESTY FROM ABOVE

We are desperate to know how such a powerful God feels about evil and wrongdoing:

(Roman 1:18 MSG) But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over the truth.

What is the truth that is “shrouded”? The truth of God’s goodness through Christ, the Good News of redemption through Christ’s resurrection, and the hope of the coming age when Heaven will be the new Earth. A heeding word of advice to the world from God through Paul:

(Ephesians 5:6 MSG) Don’t let yourself get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with Him. Don’t even hang around people like that.

Words of wisdom:

(Romans 1:9-11 MSG) If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what other say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

This speaks to terrorists just as it does any citizen of anywhere. And how does God command us to treat our enemies until the day He returns?

(Romans 12:17-21 MSG) Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” 
Our scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

OUR CALL TO LOVE

We are not to carry out vengeance on anyone, instead, we are called to love in the name of Jesus. The command is very simple, though the words land with difficulty when faced in times of temptation or struggle, and excruciatingly trying if we have not found it in ourselves to forgive our wrongdoers the way Christ forgives us. From this we can take away that God is a God who promises vengeance on troublemakers and our enemies, and that we need not encroach upon His promise to do so. The reason why is that we are already to be judged for our own crimes; only God is the righteous judge. In a world full of terror and corruption, poverty, and evil, can we let God have the vengeance while following His command to love others the way He calls us to?

PUNISHMENT FOR SIN

If we cannot believe in a God who loves us enough to die for us Himself in Jesus Christ, then hopefully it will help some of us to remember God promises vengeance on every enemy. Terrorism will not go unavenged. Sex-slavery will not go unavenged. God sees everything and everyone and He hears the calls of those in need. He has not gone remiss, He still loves us with an everlasting love. He loves us enough to let us suffer when He knows He can help us grow as individuals through of the pain, and He loves us enough to be silent at times, allowing us to be aware of our need for Him so we will remember He is a good God when we come running into His open arms.

THE TRUE NATURE OF FAITH

For those of us solely seeking empirical evidence of God in order to prove His existence, we forget faith does not require sight, and we contradictorily demand God prove Himself while we justify our own actions with a morality undefined by anyone but ourselves and a culture as subjective as all the rest. If we do not choose to see the world and look at people through the eyes of God, as we are intended to through faith in Christ—then we will continue to define our lives and ourselves from a limited plane of justification; telling ourselves our justification is legitimate without admitting we are no different from the rest of society telling itself it knows best because “it just does.” Without properly contending the source of morality, who can truly define good or bad? And if we cannot distinguish between good or bad, how can we argue over the existence of a loving God based on whether or not He is good in relation to His ability to love? Truly, if we cannot cross this line without stuttering and stammering, can we really point our fingers at the idea of God and reject Him when we can’t even understand our own argument?

THOUGHTS?

From this article, I would like you to consider the questions posed and carefully examine your current position. The end result could help you understand why your stance on faith in Jesus does or does not make sense, and why. My hope is that with some introspection, prayer, and open-mindedness, you will allow yourself to see these perspectives from a new light, and in so doing, become aware of why you believe what you believe with a stronger sense of peace and confidence. If you have any questions or thoughts you’d feel comfortable sharing, please write in the comments below and I will respond as promptly as I can. I would love to hear from you!

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Transformed From Within: How We Are Meant To Live

Life is precious. Every breath is significant as any one of those breaths could be our last. That is an exhilarating truth; both an invitation to truly live, and a heeding not to do anything less.

Would you miss the sound of wind rustling through the trees if it stopped? What about the cool, slow ripples through the water of a pond? Feeling the tender, fragile petals of a beautiful flower on the pores of your skin? These preponderances of life are the delicate and ubiquitous complements to existence, and reminders that we are still alive; yet so few of us pause in appreciation of these details, as if they have little or no value.

These examples aren’t all there is of course, God also provided human relationships—the closest relational bond we can have to that of experiencing relationship with God Himself (because we are made in His image).

There are people in this world who are gifted (through time and practice, intention, and humility/surrender of the self to God) at making the best of every situation; pleasant or unpleasant; ideal or less preferred. Oppositely, there are others who dwell in the negative aspects of the same situations, adhering to hedonistic downtime as a means of an escape from the Hell that is life at times of adversity.

For the unbeliever, life on Earth is Heaven since this is as close to an idyllic life as one gets when they deny the existence of Heaven—the promised eternal home for believers of Christ who live changed lives; loving on those who hate them, forgiving those who hurt them, putting God before themselves, and living selflessly in the name of Jesus—denying the world its offer of transient hedonism in exchange for our eternal soul. Under the closed eyelids of the unbeliever, Jesus and the Bible are the most conflicting, confusing message of love, miracle, testimony, and intimacy in the history of humankind.

Furthermore, for many the unbeliever, to believe in Jesus as Lord and to follow Him as such is to relinquish the freedom to live autonomously, and, therefore, to lose the ability to enjoy life. The implementation following this deliberation of disbelief is distorted in two ways that I want to mention. The first, as Timothy Keller intuitively writes in his book, The Reason For God:

This oversimplifies, however. Freedom cannot be defined in strictly negative terms, as the absence of confinement and constraint. In fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation.
If you have a musical aptitude, you may give yourself to practice, practice, practice the piano for years. This is a restriction, a limit on your freedom. There are many other things you won’t be able to do with the time you invest in practicing. If you have the talent, however, the discipline and imitation will unleash your ability that would otherwise go untapped. What have you done? You’ve deliberately lost your freedom to engage in some things in order to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom to accomplish other things
.”

We may choose to allocate our time practicing disbelief, but the freedom that we lose in that is the assurance of eternity; sacrificing the peace in knowing every moment is purposefully spent preparing for the promise of Heaven. Without deliberation aimed in the direction of an eternity permeated with unconditional love and infinite peace and joy, one’s life culminates in deprecation; disappointed that all our Earthly endeavors lead to the dilapidation of time, the ultimate degradation of egocentrism in a world indulging itself with fanatics commercializing humanity’s greatest weaknesses for the admission of our humility, and the downfall of pride in a world seeking purpose while castigating the desire for meaning in life beyond emotionless copulation, soulless entertainment, and the disparaging lies of media and politics.

Yes, believers choose to give up their freedom—in exchange for not living a life full of constant disappointments and without reassurances for any kind of turnaround or comeback. When we believe the comeback to this life is the promise of an eternal home where there is no pain, death, suffering, wickedness, sin, tears, or disappointments—there isn’t much to consider or think about—it’s pretty black and white: Why choose a life of disbelief when following Jesus not only changes our eternal home, but also encourages us to live more fully here and now? Belief in Jesus is entirely incomplete if one believes that faith in Jesus only means “You get eternity in Heaven” without rebirthing their soul in this very moment. Believing in an eternity in Heaven is spiritually lustful when we take the gold without thanking the Miner; living our lives fully believing we are going to Heaven should change more than just where we believe we’ll go when we die: It relieves us of the disappointment of believing everything that happens between now and then is purposelessness in that everything we experience while on Earth is only for here and now. The eternal promise of the Bible is the exact opposite: Everything we do here and now matters in that it leads us directly to where we go next. In other words, if every word we speak, every action we take and decision we make leads us towards Heaven, would we not want those words, actions, and choices to be the very best in the name of the King who provided their route? If not, can we authentically admit that we have faith in what’s to come, or just lust in the idea of receiving what we do not deserve? This question leads me to the second distortion of implementing disbelief: We sometimes think that believing we’ll go to Heaven is the end of the story of belief; but entering Heaven isn’t even the beginning. 

Make no mistake, Heaven is not anything we earned, nor anything we deserve, rather—it is what we are given freely through the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ sacrificing His life for ours on the cross. Heaven isn’t about what we do on Earth, it’s about what Jesus did on the cross. Let me repeat that for emphasis: Going to Heaven has literally nothing to do with anything we could ever do on Earth (as if to prove our worth to God), it has everything to do with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. This isn’t about shaming us for His death—He chose to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to pay the eternal price for ourselves. That is the relief and hope of believing in Christ; not that we get a free life living in sin and then expect Heaven—NO—the hope of Christ is that as a byproduct of having faith in Jesus as Lord, we have hope in what’s to come because of what Jesus did in our place. This isn’t some kind of eternal freebie, it’s a life-changing grace and alteration of our soul substance. Before we have Christ, we are lost in our sin; selfishness, greed, lust, gluttony, pride, etc. When we accept Christ, we become aware of our sin (like Adam and Eve after they ate fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became aware of their nakedness with shame (Genesis 3:7).), we realize that sin is wrong, we pause in reflection of how we can better ourselves by surrendering to the will of our loving God—who, by the way, literally clothed Adam and Eve Himself right after they had sinned (Genesis 3:21). What kind of God rebukes the sin but loves the sinner all the same? This one does; the God of the Bible.

Do we live our lives in thankfulness that a God like this loves us so much that He came and died for us in the flesh so that we wouldn’t have to pay for desiring lust, gluttony, idols, obsessions, blasphemy, stealing, and killing (among the others)? Not that we live perfect lives, no, but do we live transformed lives? Different than before? Refined by gratefulness, thanksgiving, submissiveness to God, surrender of our will and our desires? That is Christianity; that is rebirth.

When we awake one more time, are we aware of how much godly beauty is in this world, or do we take it for granted? Are we aware that every breath is given to us? When we aren’t suffocating for air, that is a blessing. That is a gift from God. Every time. Do we spend our lives thanking Him for these gifts, or do we spend time taking them for granted and splurging ourselves? This kind of lifestyle is like (in the most rudimentary, basic sense) a parent, after carefully and lovingly baking a batch of delicious, savory chocolate chip cookies, and watching their child stuff the cookies in their mouth and leave without so much as a smile or “thank you”. The parent still loves their child, and I imagine the parent would still want to make more cookies for their child just because they want to see their child take pleasure from what they know their child enjoys, but—where does that leave the state of the heart of the child? Will they go into life expecting everyone to treat them with such consideration and love without thanking them for their generosity and selflessness? If they don’t, and they die one day in that state of their soul, should they be judged as “normal” (“like everyone else”), or as selfish and hedonistic? Does that kind of soul know God? Are they transformed and living a life in thanks for the gifts they are given, in effect leading others towards the same God of love?

How would the parent feel, ultimately, every time they make cookies and the child just walks away after taking everything? Hurt, maybe? How do we expect God to feel when we ignore Him, reject Him, and live carelessly when we get what we want? And yet, a life of closed-minded disbelief does not lead us to a selfless life of purpose, but to a life of meaningless gain and purposeless suffering. Even those who give in the “name of love” do so without giving credit to anyone but themselves; even their “selflessness” is rooted in narcissism. Without giving credit to God, how do we thank the Giver of life?

I urge you to consider these thoughts and, if you’re truly living a selfless life in the name of Jesus, I commend you and urge you to continue shining your light towards Jesus so others will continue to notice that you’re different from anyone else they know for a specific reason. You aren’t the way you are “just because”. The love we give comes from Jesus, or it is meaninglessly selfish. Which kind of love do we want to share; selfish or selfless? How do you define what is selfish and what is selfless? Perhaps this will change your definition of what living in faith means when compared to “living in peace but without God”.

My hope and prayer is that this article opens your eyes to the way God loves us all, and how the way we live our lives impacts not only God’s reception of our thankfulness, but others’ witnessing of His love through our lifestyle and decision-making. The way we treat others matters for this exact reason, and the way we respond to this truth ultimately defines our view of faith, the authentic transformation that comes with that faith (or lack thereof), and finally, the way we lead ourselves to our eternal future— in hope or in fear/ignorance. Where are you today? I pray you find Jesus today, and that you come to accept His grace, mercy, love, and promise of hope in His resurrection from the dead. He did not stay dead—He came back to life, and that is why we all must live a life of worship, thanksgiving and praise; implementing a life of gratitude in the name above all names: JESUS.

Oversight