To Make the Love of God Credible

In the prison bible study I was talking about the love of God.

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, 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.
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.

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.

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18 thoughts on “To Make the Love of God Credible ”

  1. One of my favorite all time scriptures.

    I've never heard this expounded but I'm convinced that Paul's statement in Colossians (?)"Christ in us is the hope of Glory" that glory is the manifestation of God. If this is true, and He manifests himself as love, then Christ in us is the "hope of love."

  2. How you keep Steve close and tell him that you love him, in spite of his feeling awkward, is the key, it is a choice. In other words, and I remember this was pretty much the gist of your post on the Sermon on the Mount, we do not wake up one morning feeling in love with the world. Indeed, it is a CONCRETE decision.

    When we understand how concrete it is it pushes us out of our allusion of love, thinking we are following John the Evangelist's words "we cannot love God unless we love one another", simply because we "feel" so close to our brothers and sisters. Feeling the love is part of it, but choosing to love the next one we meet is most of it. But, unfortunately, I recall as a child seeing and hearing church members smirk and mock those whom they called liberal, who declared their love for the outcast, the poor, and people of color, accusing them of "putting on airs" just to be different. In other words, if we don't feel it, then it must not be real in another.

    I believe conservative, evangelistic churches have come to a fork in the road, even some of us who like to think of ourselves as "progressive". One way leads to communities that have been difficult to embrace and concretely love in the past, while the other lets us move further away while "verbalizing", "But we still love you", demanding that we be taken at our word and feeling angry and hurt when we are not. It is time that Christians stop being the ones with the sensitive feelings, waiting to be thanked and appreciated for our "nod from a distance", and make the choices that are, at first, very unsettling. It is then that those around us will forget the hypocrisy they witnessed in the past.

  3. I've also come to feel that a lot of blog, Twitter and Facebook activity is just this sort of "verbalizing" without concrete action. In one sense, I think the Internet is one of the worst things that has ever happened to progressive Christianity.

  4. "It is then that those around us will forget the hypocrisy they witnessed in the past."

    No, we absolutely will not. If for no other reason than that it continues unabated to this very day.

  5. In my experience, the key is the love of Christ for the whole world and all its people. We don't really even have to think much about "God," since the Christ "is the image of the invisible God." Christ was fleshly, and is accessible to us for that reason; moreover, Christ, via the Cross, reflects back to people his comprehension of, and compassion for, their own pain. Christ offers the missing Love, and is the mirror for us all.

    The Cross tells the whole story - not by means of "substitutionary atonement," but by Christ's simple identification with people in pain.

    I'm just speaking from personal experience. I have for many years had trouble even believing in God - but have never had trouble believing that Christ is the Son of God! That probably sounds really odd, but I actually don't think I'm alone. "God" is a difficult concept - didn't Aquinas himself take chapters and chapters to work out his ideas about God? - but Christ is always there, loving people and offering Himself for their gaze.

    It's always good, of course, for us as Christians to offer ourselves to others as well - but that is a learning process, and something that needs practice. Again I speak from experience; I've been an A.A. member for 30 years, and that sort of offering of love can and does happen - but it arises from a place of a total inability to love, in fact, and comes at the end of times of great pain.

    As human beings, we will always disappoint - but Christ is the Northern Star, constant and unchanging, loving the world from the Cross. This is why the story is the most affecting part of the faith itself, to me.

  6. I so wish that there was a "like" button for this post, because I would "like" it about 50 times! "We are to become sacraments of God's love, physical signs of God's love..." So much truth here!

  7. At the Canadian Badlands Passion Play ( in Drumheller we have men from the local Penitentiary who come to work at our site every day. We enjoy having them with us and have had a great time working together. I used to do a Bible Study inside but have found that relationships, joy and caring grow much better when you get the chance to dig a trench together.
    Keep up the good work. Visiting those in prison is a blessed act and something we need a lot more of.

  8. I certainly won't argue with you, Sam. I know how you feel. I come from a family of preachers, and I have numerous times heard "the world" racked over he coals without mercy from the pulpit, then became well aware of the same things practiced by the ones who did the racking. It is hard to get over, I know.

  9. Sorry for the misspelling; "racked" should have been "raked", but you know what i mean. An old mind gets tired in the afternoon.

  10. Similarly, when well-meaning Christians, or anyone else for that matter, say (e. g. when receiving an award publicly) that they are "humbled" by something or other, it's both meaningless AND counterproductive. Or when we sign our most vitriolic posts "In Christian Love." Etc., etc.

    Anymore, that's why I just sign mine, "qb." If I'm acting or posting neither humbly nor lovingly, what business do I have pretending to post either way? Many of these things hinge not on our intentions but on our actual effects on others.

    Not self-referentially in the slightest,


  11. Thanks for this post, Richard. I appreciate the way you serve. It reminds me of an old friend and mentor.

    When I was in college I met a 70 year old Greek man who was a retired Assemblies of God pastor. I met him serving at the local rescue mission in Santa Cruz, CA. He kissed everyone he met, every time he saw them. And he called all the men he served "son". He kissed people who smelled, whose socks were as yellowed as their teeth, who had liquor on their breath, who had tattoos on their necks, who had just gotten out of prison, who had been strung out on drugs––it didn't matter, he kissed everyone. He would say something like, "I'm Greek, son, come here" and then you knew what was coming. And everyone loved him and respected him. His kisses were awkward and disarming; concrete acts of love that transcended social boundaries and "purity" barriers. He told me once that he saw a picture of Mother Theresa laying down in a ditch near a dying man and thought "I want to be like her." I saw Ted serving homeless people with great love and thought, "I want to be like him."

  12. Don't you know that "real" men don't tell other men that they love them? At least that is what I learned from my culture. Mothers could tell their children this, but not the fathers. Sign of weakness and effeminacy. Fathers said, "Can't be sissy; keep a stiff upper lip; get a grip on yourself there, boy." Why, that is what John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, and Sam Elliott would say (in the movies).

  13. Richard, one more thing. I just wanted to thank you for lighting a fire under me, moving me to write my brother in prison. I owed him a letter. The last time I wrote him was two weeks before Christmas. I always tell him I love him. But some may say, "That's easy; he's your brother". OK.

  14. Richard, I sense in your resolution to Steve's problem that The Little Flower is bearing more fruit.

  15. Someone once said that the spiritual life only really begins when one can truly forgive their parents. It seems to resonate.

  16. When he was little my godson used to say "My mom doesn't love me. She never tells me she loves me." I would tell him "Yes she does, she just doesn't know how to say it." I made sure I told him FREQUENTLY I love him. As he got older, I'd say "Have I told you lately?" Regardless of how he answered - I'd say "I LOVE YOU!!!" He would smile, and sometimes even blush. I'd tell him no matter what he did, where he went, what he becomes, I'll always love him. He's going on 22 now. And HE frequently tells people "I love you". And means it. He was in China during the last school year - and messaged me "Have I told you lately?" Three simple little words to tell someone - just hearing those words makes a difference. Keep telling Steve you love will sink in and he will pass it on to others. :)

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