The Tough Love of God

God’s love is tough. It endures. It does not give up, and it knows not defeat. Some people even think His love is irresistible. That means there’s nothing a human can do to escape from eventually returning love back to God. I don’t know about that, but I do know His love is from everlasting to everlasting. The Psalmist says, “God’s goodness and mercy will surely follow me all the days of my life.” His love will follow me; it will search me out. God’s love is in hot pursuit of humankind, like a bloodhound sniffing out an escaped fugitive.

That is kind of what we mean when we say, “God is love.” or when we say, “Jesus loves you!”. But, what do we mean when we say “I love God”? I’m really asking. What goes on in the mind and heart of the individual who proclaims, “I love God!”? I have no idea. I know it must sound a little arrogant, to the uninitiated. Because, who in their right mind expects God to care what humans think, anyways? I don’t know what others may mean when they say “I love God”. I can only try to express what I have meant when I say it.

Sometimes I mean, “Lord, I am really pleased with you right now. Life is going good, and all my problems seem small and manageable. I really like my life today. You rock!” Sometimes I mean, “Lord, I am really experiencing you in a more tangible and immanent way. You seem closer than other times, and I enjoy the nearness of you. It is exciting having you so near, because I feel like everything is a miracle. God, you are so good!” Other times I mean, “Lord, I am on an emotional high. My attitude is great. I’m on top of the world. It feels great, and I attribute all of this to you!” Still, other times I mean, “Lord you have done so much for me. I am awed by your mercies, which are renewed day by day. I don’t deserve you or your blessings, but you have over looked my unworthiness and given me good things anyway. I don’t get it, but I know I need it. I am so thankful.” On my bad days I mean, “Lord, my emotions are not here. I don’t have any exuberant feelings toward you, but I know I am supposed to love you. I am spiritually impoverished, and it feels like I have nothing to give. It is hard to remember you, and I would probably rather just be distracted from pain, but I know I am supposed to pray even harder in these times. Please renew a right spirit in me, and remind me why I chose to follow Jesus.”

I’m just being honest. But the Bible says we are to love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Pretty much everything that is involved with being a person, is supposed to be involved with loving God. If it is a part of us, we had better learn to use it to love God. In every decision making process, we must take into account the love of God. Loving God should prevent us from sinning. It should motivate us to do good to our neighbors. It is designed to flow into us and through us into the lives of our fellow Christians. Ultimately though, the love of God is God’s gift to us, which he expects to be given back to Him. God loves us first, then we are spiritually empowered to love Him back. We cannot love God, except for He has first loved us.

We love God, because He relates to us as Father. Earthly fathers were tasked by God to protect us, the children, and provide for us. Guess what our Heavenly Father does? You got it! He protects and provides. Some religions cannot see God as Father, but this is one of the fundamental ways He relates to his creation. In fact, the fathership of God is part of His intrinsic Triune nature. According to scripture, He was God the Father, having begotten the Son, before He even created anything at all.

We love God, because He has made us in His image. Part of the life of God is to live in perfect love and agreement with God’s triune self. So, it makes sense then, that as a creature made in God’s image I am designed to live in perfect love with God. He has made us in His image, and He has placed in us an innate desire to delight ourselves in Him. Fallen, broken humanity, has exchanged love for God with fear of Him. The proverbs teach that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It may be the beginning, but God certainly expects us to move through the fear and into the love. That’s why the new testament teaches that “perfect love casts out fear.” Being in right relationship with the Father means we have learned to properly fear Him, and the fear produced wisdom in us, which, when followed to its completion, will become love.

There is also a type of love which is expressed through obedience. Jesus taught his disciples that if we love Him, we must obey His commands. Jesus came to make disciples, not converts. Disciples obey their master. They follow in His footsteps. Jesus has modeled an ideal life. He paved the Way to show humans a new, spiritual lifestyle, which places God first and treats others better than ourselves. Who can say, “I love Jesus”, without following His way of life, obeying His commands, and emulating His attitudes? That would be like saying “I am an Elvis impersonator, but I don’t try to look like him, or talk like him, and I don’t know any of his songs…” We would look at a person like that and think, “Either this guy has no idea what an Elvis impersonator is, or he’s a liar.”

Another way to show love for God is to love other Christians. In 1 John the Disciple who Jesus loved teaches us that Christians are born of God. But any one who hates his brothers is a liar, and the love of God is not in him. How can a Christian love God and hate other Christians? If you love God, then you will love what is born of God; i.e other Christians! If I am made in the image of God, then I should love His image. All humans are made in His image, so I must love them. They are walking talking reminders of who God is!

How do Christians show love for each other?
a. Worship together
b. Pray for each other
c. Bear one another’s burdens
d. Sacrifice for each other
e. Remain in unity among ourselves (News flash, this includes when we disagree about doctrine)
f. We are Imago Dei, so how can we say we love God if we hate our brothers?

Jesus’ teaching makes it clear that the greatest love is demonstrated by the greatest sacrifices. We lay down our lives for the One we love. We must also lay down our lives for one another. Toward God it is surrender of our will, toward men it is treating them the way we would treat Jesus. It doesn’t matter who they are, if you treat them like you would treat Jesus you cannot go wrong. Jesus is so serious about humans loving each other, He even tells His disciples to love their enemies, praying for those who scornfully mistreat you and slander you. That’s what I call tough love!

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The Gaurdians of the Galaxy? #GOTG

I took my wife last weekend to see the summer blockbuster, “The Gaurdians of the Galaxy”.  I enjoyed it immensely, but I have always loved comic books, action heroes, and space thrillers.  This movie is right in my wheelhouse, because it is all 3 wrapped into a neat little 2hr package.  Color me a very happy fanboy!

When it comes to comic book movies it always seems like the more superhuman a character becomes, the more aloof, withdrawn, and uncaring they become; and the less they are actually concerned with the affairs of humans. (See below Dr. Manhattan of The Watchmen, or Jean Grey/Ms. Marvel/The Phoenix, even Superman is somewhat unapproachable due to his awesome power)

This is a pic of Dr. Manhattan not caring.

This is a picture of Phoenix about to smoke some undeserving humans, simply because she’s high on power.

This meme of regular humans who subsequently become quasi-gods, and, in turn, lose their humanity seems like a cultural touchstone.  Perhaps there is something deeply tied to our cultural psyche, which distrusts those we perceive to who hold too much power.  Maybe we’ve seen despots rise and wreak havoc.  Maybe absolute power does corrupt absolutely.

Fortunately, none of the Gaurdians are all powerful; they are just regular folk, like you and me.  If, regular folk were genetically mutated, cybernetically enhanced racoons, or tree people akin to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents.  Maybe that’s why, for me, this film had more pathos and drama than any of the others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Even Ironman 3, with its inclusion of a parent absent, perpetually bullied young boy, Tony’s PTSD, and the pain it gives him when he thinks he has lost Pepper Potts, does not compare in the poignancy department, to the heartfelt, and often tear jerking Gaurdians.

I mention Rocket the raccoon and Groot, the walking tree, because they are the two most human and compelling characters in the film.  Groot is a creature capable of intense altruism, and destructive violence.  Rocket is outwardly tough and battle hardened, while inwardly he is sad, self loathing, emotionally adept.  He feels exactly how he ought to feel, exactly when he should.  Ironic, that I connected more with these two non-human, CGI created, intergalactic denizens of sci-fi, than the human, Peter Quill/Star Lord or the other two humanoids, Gamora and Drax the destroyer.

Rocket and Groot are likable, because they are vulnerable.  They elicit the most acute emotional responses from the audience, because their characters are the most emotionally available.  They are not super charged, god-like, masters of the Universe, calloused and ambivalent to the needs of others.  They are friends, they are willing to take up a cause that is dangerous, yet worthy, they are, in a word, self sacrificial.  And, because of this, they are Gaurdians of the Galaxy.

Remember when I said that our culture fears those with too much power?  This may contribute (or be a cause of, rather than an effect of) to our cultural distrust of God Himself.  Who is more powerful?  Who is less trusted?  The one true God is not like Dr. Manhattan or the Phoenix of Marvel Comics, or ancient Marduk of Mesopotamian mythology.  Yes, He is all powerful.  Yes, He may do as He pleases.  Yes, He transcends human understanding.  But, none of those attributes leads Him to disregard our human frailties. Hebrews 4:15 says that “We do not have a high priest (that is, Jesus) who is not able to empathize with our human weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are… He is not arbitrary, capricious, or indifferent to us, He actually loves us.

The ultimate proof of God’s love for humankind is that He sent His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus to die for our sins.  What does this have to do with the movie?  In the end it is love that saved the galaxy, and in the end it was Love that moved the heart of God to save sinners hellbent on our own destruction.  Jesus’s love for us, and His self sacrifice for us, earned Him the name that is above all other names.  Jesus, the creator and sustainer of, not only the universe, space/time, electromagnetism, the color spectrum, emotions, and fun, but also of you and me, died for you and me, so that we can have ever lasting life.

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