Throughout the New Testament, God is pictured as a loving heavenly father to those who have put their faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Paul describes those who have placed their faith in Christ as “dearly loved children” (See Ephesians 5:1).
Did you know that God loves you? I mean really loves you?
More often than not we have this picture of God as a stern Father in heaven, arms crossed, looking down on us with extreme disappointment, and inches away from kicking us out of the family. Sound familiar? I bet it does.
I grew up with that image of God. As a matter of fact, the image of God I grew up with was a God who would kick you out of the family for the slightest infraction — I didn’t know from one minute to the next whether or not God loved me, and I was pretty sure He would never fully accept me, because frankly, I knew me and I knew I shouldn’t be accepted.
Over the years, that faulty picture of God has changed for me. As I read the Bible, I discover a God who didn’t fit the image I had painted of Him. I discovered a God who was more willing to forgive me than I was willing to ask for His forgiveness. I discovered a God whose arms were opened wide, not crossed over His chest, a God who longed to embrace me.
In short, I found a God whose love for me I can’t begin to fathom and a God who accepts far quicker than He rejects.
Yes, God does reject people, but you have to go a long way to get to that point. In fact, you have to go to the grave rejecting Him and refusing His love and forgiveness.
Sadly, if the Scriptures are true, there is a hell as well as a heaven. Before you stop reading this column in disgust because you can’t believe I even wrote that last line, understand that hell is not a place to which God willingly sends anyone; hell is populated by people who insisted all their lives that God leave them alone and in the end they have gotten their wish.
Don’t blame God for hell; He has made every way possible for you to avoid it, but the choice of whether or not you accept His way is totally up to you.
Do you recall the sad story of Jaycee Dugard who was kidnapped by Phillip Garrido in 1991, at age 11, and held captive for 18 years by Garrido and his wife Nancy? Would any of you describe that relationship as a love relationship? I don’t think so.
If a person then lived all his or her life insisting that God leave them alone, would it be love to force them to live in a place where His presence was constant and His will followed perfectly? C.S. Lewis was right when he described hell as being populated by “successful rebels to the end. All of their lives they insisted that God leave them alone, and alas, that is what He does.”
It is this sad reality of hell that we project heavenward and then picture God as angry and vengeful, a God who secretly delights when we mess up so He can slap us down. But again, that is not the picture of God that the Scriptures paint of Him. He loves us so much that He paid the penalty for our sin Himself and He offers us a free and full forgiveness if we are willing to accept it.
The problem we often have at this point comes from those who want to have their cake and eat it too, those who think God should just freely forgive everyone no matter what they do or don’t do, no matter how they lived. The problem with that scenario is such a God would certainly not be a truly loving God because such a God would be an unjust God.
Only in the Christian worldview do we find a balance between true justice and true love. You ought to consider that.
God’s great love letter to you was written in red. Here’s an excerpt from that letter, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, The Message)
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.