Steve raised his hand.
"How can I believe," he asked, "that God loves me when no one in my life has ever told me that they loved me?"
I listened as Steve went on.
"My father never told me that he loved me. My mother never told that me she loved me. No one has ever told me that they loved me."
I don't think Steve is alone. I think many people struggle to believe that God loves them. The love of God in Christ isn't believable, isn't credible. Usually, like Steve, because we've been emotionally wounded in the past.
Believing that God loves us is very, very hard. I'm reminded of this famous text about the love of God:
Ephesians 3.18-19 (NRSV)I pray that you may have the power to comprehend. Comprehend what? How deep and wide and high is the love of God for us.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
What's interesting here is that the prayer is for the power of comprehension. The power to understand something. The power to know something. The power to know, deep in your bones, just how much God loves you.
That was a power that Steve lacked. Steve couldn't comprehend the love of God.
So what do you do for someone like Steve?
I think you have to live in such a way that makes the love and grace of God credible and believable to others.
Concretely, I begin to tell Steve that I love him. And through my love the love of God becomes credible. We are to become sacraments of God's love, physical signs of God's love, as we stand before others and say "I love you." We mediate the love, grace and mercy of God.
God's love becomes credible, more believable, when we love the world in the name of God.
And so I've started telling Steve that I love him. It's awkward for him, but getting less so. No longer can he say that no one has ever told him that they love him.
And my hope in doing this very simple thing is that in my expressions of love to Steve that he may come to comprehend, that he may come to believe, just how deep and wide and high is the love of God in Christ Jesus.