What is the difference between knowing the love of God, and feeling loved by him? What is the difference between believing that God is a God who loves us, and really knowing that love?
On Sunday we were looking at the story that Jesus told about the ‘prodigal’ son. When Martin finished speaking he invited us to discuss the implications around the tables where we were sitting. I made a statement on the spur of the moment and without really thinking about it. I said,
“I have always known that God loves me, ever since I was 5 years old.”
60+ years ago
My father was a lay preacher and one day, when I was very young, he taught me a song, and asked me to sing it to the congregation.
Love is like the sunshine, warm and bright.
Love will lift the heavy load and make it light.
God is love, and if he lives in you,
The sunshine of his love will come a-shining through, a-shining through.
I have never sung this song since, and yet over 60 years later I can remember every word – and the tune too. I don’t know what impression my singing had on the audience, but that song impacted me then, and remains with me today.
Believing is, so often, just a mental assent. It is not good enough to say, “I believe that God loves me.” We need to have experienced that love. Believing is linked to faith, and for faith to be what it is there has to be the possibility, however remote, that it is not true. We can choose to believe that God loves us, but unless that love has hit us and affected our lives, it remains a theory which we believe with our heads.
I have no doubt whatsoever that 2 + 2 = 4. I know that it is true. There is no need for faith to believe that it is true. I could stake my life upon it. I know that it is true because I understand it. If I have two apples, and someone gives me another two, I now have four apples!
Einstein told us that e = mc2. I believe him but I don’t really understand the theory of relativity and all its implications. I believe the scientists who accept the theory, but I am not sure that I would stake my life upon it.
Believing that God loves me is a good starting point, but there is so much more….
Experiencing the love of God is great, but does it mean that I always feel loved by him? I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel loved by God.
- Sometimes I am like a naughty child, who being disciplined by his parents, doesn’t feel loved when he is disciplined.
- Sometimes like a rebellious teenager, I don’t feel loved when I think I know better how to run my life!
- Sometimes I go through experiences that make it hard to feel loved at all.
- Sometimes I feel alone, and long to feel the love I have experienced before.
And yet there are times when I am quite overwhelmed by the love of God, my Father. But it is not just about feelings.
The best example that I can think of is my relationship with Christine, my wife. Sometimes I need to travel overseas, on my own. I may not actually feel her love when I am thousands of miles away, but I know that she loves me.
Knowing God’s love
The good news is that we can really know that God loves us because it is his very nature. God is love. He loves us unconditionally. Whether we deny his existence, whether we rebel against his plan for our lives, and whether we respond to his love, or not: he still loves us.
If I go through a difficult experience, someone might say to me, “Where is God’s love now?”. Though I might not feel very loved, I can say, “Deep down, I really know that God still loves me!”
Let us not confuse feeling and believing with knowing. If we currently don’t feel his love, let us not fall into the trap of thinking that God does not really love us.
Knowing God, our creator, is our goal. If I have an accurate picture of his nature, then I can experience the love of God in my life, and know, regardless of whatever else happens to me, that God loves me.