Wednesday, February 10, 2010

God is always in a good mood. Or, How can I know the love of the Father?

They say you don't have to tell people God loves them, because people presume that. I take the point but people clearly don't actually know the love of God, otherwise they'd be Christians - they only think they know.

The suggested solution?
Major on hell and all the things people don't want to hear. I do see where that's coming from, and hell is important, but... perhaps we ought to tell people better about the love of God... given neither we nor God actually want people to perish... (2 Peter 3:9)

Paul is concerned that the local church in Ephesus should really know the love of God, he writes out his prayer for them in Ephesians 3.

He gets on his knees before the Father to pray that they'd be strengthened by God's power so that Christ would dwell in their hearts that they'd have strength together with all the saints - not to fight but to "comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" that they'd be filled with the fullness of God to the glory of the abundant Father through the church and through Christ forever. 


Quite a prayer to pray - imagine such an experience of the love of God. 

How can I know the love of God?  
As a gift. It's the answer to a prayer. And prayer is not a contract or a deal with God it's us asking and him giving. Want to know the love of God? Ask. To know him is the essence of his grace to us.

Where can I know the love of God? 
In me, in the church and in Christ. Which isn't a list of three independent options but three things that go together perfectly. 

Warm-hearted John Calvin says union with Christ is the heart of being a Christian. That is, God has made his home in me by his Holy Spirit, catching me up into the life of the Triune God. God is at happily at home in me. He is in "my inner being". Filling me with his Spirit ongoingly.

Inner life is part of being a Christian. But Christianity is more too. Being Christian is a community thing. The dividing walls fall down because of the blood of Jesus. Once impenetrable barriers become paper thin and get take down. We live "with all the saints".

There is no churchless Christianity. We know the love of God with God's people, in our relationships with the members of one local church. This isn't individualism. Reality is relational. The reference point for my life is not how things effect me, it's also how it effects my local church. A behind closed doors relationship with God is important - but a Christianity lived in self-giving relationships is non-negotiable too.

Everything of this is "in Christ". We were dead under divine wrath - Jesus died under that wrath for us!! For us! He was raised and seated and so to are we raised and seated. Everything that happened to Jesus happens to us and for us as we live in union with Christ.

Christ though points us to his Father. The goal is the glory of the Father through the church and through Christ. The gospel awakens us with an inconsolable longing for the expansive, lavish, surpassing, far more, much more, abundant love of the Father, the love he had for the Son and for the church before the foundation of the world!

The Father's power isn't control and oppression, its the power that raised Christ from the dead to make known his love - his power is all about love. The love with which he adopted and redeemed us lavishly to know his Christ-purpose of a global gospel. Everything about God and his gospel is expansive - small-mindedness is anti-Triune, anti-Christian.


Ask to know his love and you'll know the Father, and you'll know and love the Christ and his church. Knowing him leads to a stronger unity between believers, knowing him leads to a more expansive life that embodies the self-giving love of the Father, that stands with people and invites them too to know the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

12 comments:

  1. Like it.

    I spoke about love this morning to the OCCA students from 1 Thes 3. Wonderful little passage about the holy, love between Christians which overflows into everyone elses situations. Great for encouraging Christians to take relational concerns very seriously. Paul is seriously interested in them.

    I like the question you pose: how can I know the love of God?

    What is meant by 'know'? Can the believer experience love?

    God defines his nature in quite a powerful way in John's letter. He is love, which is more than he loves, or he feels love, or does love. He actually is, somehow, the loving, holy, just and Triune God.

    Is the question: how can I know God's love, exactly the same as the question: how can I know God then?

    And although some people are nervous about this (I met someone a few weeks ago who told me that the peace of God isn't really experiential) knowing God is much, much more than mere belief, or service, it must also be an experience, and reality of being born again. So, perhaps the believer can hope/expect/have some kind of experience or deeper 'knowing' of God's love?

    When people don't experience love, I tend to find that there is either a moral/will problem, or a problem with unforgiveness.

    Two examples. When we do immoral things, we tend to loose sensitivity (see Eph 4:17-24). So, if you lie to people a lot, when someone tells you a moving story about love, you will likely remain unmoved - why? You lie about love all the time. You have morally trampled it, and now expect to feel the power of it? Doesn't work that way.

    The other is unforgiveness, or unresolved hurt/relational problems. If someone has dealt with hurts and wrongs by emotionally closing down that part of themselves, then its going to be all rusted up. Sometimes the person will just let the love of God flood in, letting him forgive them. Then they go around saying sorry to their old form teachers and headmasters. Others just don't allow themselves to receive a deeper reality of forgiveness from God, because they won't give it out to anyone else. It's there clear as day in the Lord's prayer...

    Forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors

    Much of this comes down to prayer, to basic repentance and faith in Christ. It's the Christian pattern for reality.


    ps. are you impressed that I haven't disagreed with everything you wrote?

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  2. How good and how pleasant it is when brothers agree.

    Seems from Paul's prayer that he really expects a tangibly experiential Christianity - it just wont do to reduce to mere cerebralism. And so yeah I think to know the love of God is knowing God. And I agree your observations as to why we lack that are often moral/will/unforgiveness.

    Somewhere someone has peddled the lie of an non-experiential Christianity of assent rather than knowing and being known by God, bizarre really... but maybe that's just my raving charismatic side messing with things eh...

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  3. I agree with the broad sweep of what is being said here. We should experience the love and peace of God now. However, we should not 'expect' to experience it perfectly for the same reason we should not 'expect' to be sinless.

    I know too many people broken by the belief that if they are not experiencing peace, love, faith without doubt etc, then they are not Chrisitians. It is paralysing.

    We mustn't forget the already/not yet. And so, Dave, I'd also challenge your contrast between cerebral and experiential. Some people may characterise things that way (inc me if I'm not thinking straight) but the real contrast is between faith and hope v. experience.


    "in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?"

    "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen"

    As you say, peace, love etc is a possession of Christ, and it is only experienced by us as his life breaks into our own. It is 'hidden with Christ in God' (I posted a rather hasty post on this recently).

    Finally, on your first two paragraphs. Of course it is not a choice between preaching about hell or the love of God. They are distinct but inseperable. We can't preach one without the other (how can we understand God's love unless we understand Christ's bearing of our punishment, and the depths of our guilt despite which the Father sent his Son), and if we try to they will get distorted (e.g. hell will become our self-righteous judgemment on people, not God's righteous judgement).

    ... a few thoughts. Sorry that's mainly negative. I agreed with most of it and particularly liked the 3 places we can find God's love "in me, in the church and in Christ". I'll have to remember that.

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  4. Sure, we don't experience now all that we will one day experience... but there is something wrong if there's no experience at all - Paul clearly expects the answer to his prayer to be experienced.

    I guess I'd like us to remember more than we have good news. Might even his justice and wrath be an aspect of his love, that we ought to think is good?

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  5. Dave K,

    Faith v sight, surely, rather than faith v experience?

    In other words, a contrast of types/ modes of experience rather than a contrast of something that's not experiential with experience.

    ???

    Dave B,

    His wrath is an 'aspect' of his love, I agree. 'Wrath' is what happens when the eternal love of the Triune God meets opposition/ darkness/ sin etc. in his creation. [The real question is not 'how can a loving God send people to hell?' but 'how can a loving God not send people to hell?']

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  7. I agree Dave. But that expectation can cut in two different ways, as all prayers can.

    1. It can encourage us to pray. We should always pray expecting an answer.
    2. It can discourage the person who prays but doesn't get an answer. Did they not have enough faith?

    That's why I want to say that we SHOULD 'expect' an answer, but we also should NOT 'expect' an answer (with two slightly different meanings of the word 'expect' perhaps).

    I agree it God's justice and wrath are good, just as his law is good. But God's justice/wrath/law are bad news for us apart from Christ as we struggle under them, it is only "in Christ" that they become our servants (so that like the Psalmists etc we can pray for God's judgment).

    Pete,

    I think I get what you are saying. I'm not wanting to deny experience (or sanctification etc - ala your recent posts). Still I'm not sure whether the distinction between sight/experience is a bit too subtle for me.

    PS I've just posted some hasty thoughts on wrath as an 'aspect' of God's love here.

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  8. I would take a stronger view than this.

    Let me say to start with that I agree with the now and not yet principle. It's biblical without doubt.

    I want to challenge something here. I think that too many people continue along with sub-par Christian faith that leads to a sup-par Christian experience.

    Let me put the challenge like this: if you are not experiencing the peace of God, then there is nothing wrong with God. There is something wrong with the way that you interact with God, and probably other people too.

    Experiences of love, peace, forgiveness are to be expected and welcomed as blessings in the Christian life.

    Don't try to react to this by making out that I'm saying that you are going to caught up in some kind of constant loving/peace now. This is a straw men.

    If you are not experiencing God - I would question your theology of how he interacts with you, and ask yourself: am I really open to him being God, or am I a bit of a control freak?

    This is not Christianity, this would be Theistic rationalism/stoicism. Let God be God.

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  9. Agreed Tom, some "not yet" is fine, but "none yet" is not what the Bible speaks of.

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  10. Hi Tom, not sure if that is directed at me or not...

    We should experience God now as Christians. Joyfully I believe I do, by God's grace.

    I was going to write some more but I'm not quite sure if we disagree or not, or if we do exactly what your position is.

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  11. Dave, not directed at you. More of a wild shot into the darkness, where readers, silent and huge in number lurk.

    I worry when the first response to feelings is critique/caution/fear. It speaks to me, not of theological precision but of keeping God in a box.

    When we open our hearts, minds, feelings, everything, up to his love, conviction, forgiveness and reconciliation, we should not presume to tell God how he may, or may not make us feel.

    Feelings, are something that God experiences. And love, is not simply a choice, it is a continuous, and responsible series of choices, to will the good of the other, rather than yourself that so forms a nature in you that feeling, thinking and doing love is no longer a choice, but a simultaneous movement of nature and will.

    Feelings unchecked, by scripture are quickly formed into idols, substitute gods, but this is not the threat that faces the reformed mind. The problem facing the reformed mind is the need to translate good theology into real transformation. But perhaps this will only happen, when we recognise the huge guilt, and avoidance problem we have with feelings, and emotions, is just as great a biblical mistake, as those who make them into golden calves.

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  12. Hi Tom,

    I'm challenged by what you say.

    You're absolutely right.

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