"…for the Father himself loves you…” (John 16:27)
It’s too easy for us to misunderstand the heart of God. From the beginning, the enemy has come with his damning question, “Did God really say…?” Since Adam and Eve answered, “No,” it’s been a disaster for the rest of us. When God comes, telling of his great love, we think to ourselves, “Eh, maybe. Did he really say that, though?”
After all, you might say, isn’t Jesus saying to us even in John 16 that the Father loves us in a responsive way, like making the friend of your friend your friend? Keep reading: “The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I come from God.” There’s a reason for God’s love, and it’s not out of his own great heart. It’s a response to ours. He loves Jesus, and loves us by proxy.
But that’s nonsense. It cannot be that God loves because we first loved. The same apostle says just the opposite in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Saint Augustine comments on this verse:
This, then, was the efficient cause of our loving, that we were loved. And certainly to love God is the gift of God. He is the one who gave us the grace to love him, who loved while still unloved. Even when we displeased him, we were loved so that there might be that in us whereby we should become pleasing in his sight. For we could not love the Son unless we also loved the Father. The Father loves us because we love the Son, seeing it is of the Father and Son we have received the power to love both the Father and the Son: for love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit of both, by which Spirit we love both the Father and the Son and whom we love along with the Father and the Son. It was God, therefore, who created this religious love of ours whereby we worship God, and he saw that it is good, and for this reason he himself loved what he had made. But he would not have created in us something he could love if it were not for the fact that he loved us before he brought about that something.
But, so far, this is all just playing with words while avoiding the primary issue, that most simple yet disturbing question: What do you think God thinks of you?
Do you think he’s angry? Do you think he’s apathetic? Do you think he’s waiting for you to fix yourself up? Is he like a bitter parent who wished he had better kids?
We doubt the love of God because we know who we really are. But the image we paint of ourselves is far better than the dim reality. God sees through it. We see the outward appearance even of our inward parts because we hold the brush, but God sees the heart.
The simple yet disturbing truth is that God loves you. We know that not just because it’s said by pastors, theologians, Sunday school teachers, and Bible study curriculum, but because it's said by God himself through his Word, Jesus Christ.
We don’t deserve this love and that’s the difficulty in believing it. We know we’re unworthy. But, as Ray Ortlund has said, "There is at the heart of the universe a love too great to be limited to what we deserve." Here in John 16:27, the undeserving get what we could never earn: the love of God.
It does not start with us. How could it? That’s the good news of the gospel, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God’s love doesn’t wait on our love. God’s love is the first to move. His love is the primary change agent and what a change it creates!
It changes us deep inside. It makes us do things we’d never have done before. It opens us up. It allows us to be known. It frees us to confess sin. It emboldens us to talk to strangers about him. It empowers us to take risks. It unhinges the closed doors of our hearts to let love pour out into others. It derails the trainwreck of our lives and places us in green pastures and beside still waters. It actually makes us believe that perhaps the center of the universe is good and loving and kind and generous and wonderful. It restores hope to our hopeless lives. It redeems our past, present, and future. It sets us free.
The bad things we do in life are done for one reason: our desire to be loved. Why else would we care what people think about us? Why else would we lie? Why else would we steal? Why else would we seek to live out our sexual fantasies? Why would we do any of the terrible things we’ve done? If we feel unloved, we would trade anything in the world to obtain it. We were made to be loved.
So, God makes us a deal. He comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ and sits us down. He looks into our eyes. He opens our eyes so we can look into his. He speaks to us in a way that we can understand him. He opens his mouth and tells us his secrets. He affirms who we are, though we barely want to admit it. He shows us who he is, though we can barely see him. And at the end of it all, he makes his final offer: all of your sin and unloveliness for all my kingdom of righteousness and unending, unyielding, unashamed, outrageously faithful love. Does that sound good?
Do you believe this? If not, here’s the kicker: consider why Jesus says this anyway. It's because he’s talking about prayer. Prayer is about talking to God and we will never really talk to one whom we don’t believe wants to hear from us. But God does want to hear from us, and Jesus is there to affirm and confirm that open heart.
In Christ, God gave us the right to become his children (John 1:12). What do children have from their father if not love? As Tim Keller says, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”
You, dear Christian, have that kind of access to that kind of love. What’s keeping you from enjoying him today?
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at David's blog, Things of the Sort.