“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
The book of 1st John sums up the love relationship between God and his people very well. There are various places in the bible where the love relationship between God and his people is described. In many places, we’re called children of God, but in other places the description is like that of lovers or a bride and groom. These seem like contradictory or even opposite descriptions of God’s love, but they’re not. I believe they do, however, tell more about our end of the relationship than about God’s.
I’ve heard lots of people say, “I’m a child of God.” But what are we really saying when we say that? Being a parent of three, I know a little bit about relationships between a father and his children. Children can be immature, selfish, manipulative, and needy. Despite all this, I love them unconditionally. Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” This is a great description of God’s love for us as a father for a child. I loved my kids unconditionally even when they had done nothing for me, and it’s the same way with God. But if we stop there and just consider ourselves children of God, we’re really missing out. We’re saved through faith, but just as I love my kids even though they have all of the bad traits I listed, I hope that some day they will move out of that. In fact, if my children were thirty years old, living at home, and still only motivated by discipline and not by love and respect, I would know that there is something terribly wrong. Children are motivated through love, but they also frequently have to be motivated through punishment and discipline. God disciplines those he loves, but I would hope there is more to it than that. 1st Corinthians says, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
The other description we get of our love relationship with God is that of lovers, or a bride and groom. In fact there’s an entire book of the bible, “Song of Solomon” that is, in addition to the literal meaning, an allegory of the relationship between God and man. This is the more perfect love that we have with God. Just as it says in the opening verse, “If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” Children often behave out of fear of punishment. It is not the same thing with lovers. Just as no one needs to instruct lovers how to act towards each other, no one needs to instruct a lover of God how to act towards God, and consequently towards people, who are made in God’s image. These two types of relationships sum up how we can be saved by grace and not by works, but at the same time why works matter so much. This is the duality that is so prevalent throughout God’s word. Some would call it contradiction, but it is just our western minds trying to place a “this is true and therefore”, when so much of the time it is, “this is sometimes true, but sometimes the other, and other times both.” It speaks so much more about us than it does about God. God loves us even before we know him, as a father loves children. As our love for God builds through faith, we become less and less like children. Our relationship with God is now not a one-sided relationship based on one giving and one receiving; on punishment and fear. The relationship is now based on both giving and receiving, and on respect and bilateral love. This relationship is for adults.
The other thing about lovers is this; lovers sometimes do things that make no sense to anybody else. 1st Corinthians says, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” This to me is the most awesome and profound thing. How many songs have been written with words like “I would die just to be with you one more moment”? At face value, this sounds, well, stupid. It also sounds short sighted, naive, foolish, and probably mentally deranged. What could be that important? But this is what lovers do. This is the relationship that causes the missionaries from 100 years ago to travel on ships with their casket in their luggage. (seriously). This is the relationship that causes people to give up everything and follow God; to put themselves aside for their Lover because, yes, it’s just that important to them. They do it because they find the place where they end, and their Lover begins. They find that the less of themselves there is, the more of their Lover there is, and foolish as it is to those who don’t understand it, it makes perfect sense to them. This is the kind of relationship that missionaries are built upon, and by God, this is the one I want.