How much does God love us?
I, like many of us that live on islands, have done a lot of travelling. Over the years I have learned to travel light, and these days it is small hand-luggage only, however, back when I thought I needed to take everything with me — including the kitchen sink — every bag would be full to bursting. My hand luggage would be as much as I could carry — so large it would have to be pummelled and squashed to fit into the aircraft overhead locker. My laptop bag would be so full that the clasp eventually gave up, and my camera bag would be so filled that I stood little chance of ever getting the camera out to take photos! I would be loaded down like a packhorse and struggle to carry my bags through the various airports. I would have to keep stopping, swapping hands, and feeling the straps burning into my shoulders.
When someone mentions God to us it usually brings up a whole heap of preconceptions, presuppositions, ideas, and memories. It might be that our ideas of God are tangled up with memories of church services. We may have had encounters with fervent believers who whacked us over the head with heavy Bibles (and we still have the bruises to prove it). We may have had arguments about the irrelevance of religion in our lives — about science, wars, or politics. Or perhaps we have an image of an unforgiving, angry, or vengeful God — an image that was painted for us by a particular religion or person we encountered.
Whatever our image of God, we can be assured that it is not the whole picture. Often, our image of God is like baggage, and like all baggage it may well contain some good, useful stuff, however, baggage can also be bulky and unwieldy, overweight and oversized, and as we journey through life, it can weigh us down.
When you read the accounts of Jesus, he seemed to constantly surprise people about the nature of God. People expected God to be one way but Jesus demonstrated God being a different way. One of the phrases Jesus used was, “You have heard it said…but I tell you…” as he explained how they had misinterpreted the Holy Scriptures or formed false ideas. The whole expression of Jesus was an anathema for many, for the people did not expect a suffering God — a saving God that expressed him or herself with a self-sacrificial love — and they certainly did not expect resurrection.
It is so easy to make God in our image — to form our concept of God based on our projections, expectations, and narrow frameworks. I do wonder, if I met Jesus, if he would say to me, “Gav, you think of God like this…but I tell you…” I suppose the answer is to adopt a position of humility, admit I do not have all the answers, and be ready to be shocked, surprised, and challenged. Yet we can know a lot about the character and nature of God through reading about Jesus, and also through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. There are things of which we can be sure and certain. As the children’s song so simply puts it, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
And if there is one thing I have learned from the writers of the different books of the Bible, and from my own experience, it is that God loves us with a radical and inclusive, all-embracing love. He loves us despite all the bits we dislike about ourselves; despite our mistakes and failures; no matter who we are or what we have done. If I could describe my journey of faith it is a journey of discovery and revelation of just how much God loves me, you, us, humanity, and all creation. The Apostle Paul seemed to understand this journey when he wrote to the church in Ephesus with these words, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…”
Today, as you read this, I would like you to take a moment to put down all the baggage that might come with your idea of God, for God is bigger, wider, deeper, more wonderful, and more loving than any of us can humanly conceive; and as soon as we think we have God summed up, boxed up, and packed away, we can be assured we are carrying some baggage again. It is my prayer that today, as you put your baggage down, you will open yourself up to God and receive a deep sense of God’s radical, inclusive, and all-embracing love.