God's Love Doesn't Have an Asterisk

by Matt Olin

Being loved, or rather allowing myself to be loved, tends to feel like a far more challenging thing than it should be.  Especially when it comes to God's love.

As far back as I can remember, I was always told by my parents, family members, priests, and Sunday school teachers, that God loves me.  That He loves me more than I could imagine.  I believed it.  Never doubted it.  I never fully understood it and over the years, through experiences, circumstances, and wounds, the belief of that love never changed but my understanding of it became very warped.  Things like comfort and niceness became love's proof.  So when things in life went wrong (or I went wrong) and comfort had been shattered by pain and shame, my options were to believe that either A) God's love is simply false and doesn't exist or B) God doesn't love ME.  Since I didn't believe God to be a liar neither of those options really worked for me.  So I, like so many other people I talk with, developed a third option: C) God's love has EXCEPTIONS.

The idea that God's love had exceptions allowed room for beliefs that seemed to more accurately fit my circumstances and feelings.  It allowed for beliefs like:
"God loves me, but he's angry with me"
"He loves me, but He's disappointed in me"
"God loves me unconditionally, but I've run out of chances with him"
"The more I do for the church or those in need, the more He'll love me"
or "God is done with me but if I just clean up my life then he'll have to accept me back...because he loves me."  
Such beliefs seem reasonable, as if we've worked out a document with God that keeps us bound in pain but at least allows us visitation rights with Him.  At least now we could attend church and mumble along to songs of worship that we were sure applied to someone else.  Someone worthy of His love.  These beliefs are not only wrong; they are life stealing.

I would listen to sermons and songs of God's great, unconditional, unstoppable love and I believed them.  I believed that incredible, wonderful, live-saving news but always assumed it was meant for someone else. "Man, I'm so happy for whoever that message/song was for!  Not for me, but that's GREAT for them!"  Whatever the message, whatever the news, it was always met by my false uniqueness.  Offered love and grace were shut out by words like "except", "but", "not me", or "you don't understand".  I had put an asterisk on God's love and had a list of requirements that I was unable to fill and so I could only hope for (and should be grateful for) just a sample of His great love.  The audacity I had.  How little I felt and thought of myself and yet how pompous and narcissistic those beliefs are.

None of those thoughts or beliefs are true on any level.  If I am to understand God's love then I MUST turn to His word.  I MUST go to the one who set the rules of his love.  1 John 4:10 does NOT read "In this is love, because we kept our lives in order...".  Romans 5:8 DOESN'T read "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, except for (insert name here)."  Matthew 10:31 DOESN'T end with "you are of more value than sparrows, but not by much."  I added the lies I believed, through wounds and shame, to fill in the imaginary gaps in God's Truth.  I let God and the Enemy be co-authors of His love for me.  I had believed that this understanding would allow me to stay close (enough) to God.  I believed, not a half-truth, but a flat out lie.

I mustn't just know the Truth of His love. I can't only believe that Truth.  I MUST receive it!  It MUST become my absolute Truth.  I MUST see myself as God sees me: "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps.139:14), "a new creation" (2 Cor.5:17). I MUST, if I am to be able to "have life and have it abundantly" as Christ promises (John 10:10), let His Truth battle the lies within me.  There will be a battle, but God will win.  He always wins.  And His love for me doesn't just allow me, but invites me, desperately wants me, to join in that victory.

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