I Want To Believe But... Week One
Today we are going to launch a brand new series for the month of October entitled "I Want To Believe, But..." If this title has intrigued you, I'm super glad--that was the intention.
If you are like me, you have probably had seasons in your life when you had a few deep theological questions.
Like, "Why does God allow suffering?"
Or, "Why doesn't God seem to answer my prayers?"
Or "Why does God seem so demanding? So angry? So judgmental?
Or maybe you came to a point in your life where you just had a really hard time believing in a God you could not see or didn't seem to feel either.
Chances are if you haven't had these kinds of experiences--you know someone who has... or maybe there is someone in your life right now who has given up believing in God.
They may have even said to you: "I want to believe, but..."
I can't believe in a demanding God.
I can't believe in an angry, joyless God.
I can't believe in an absent God.
I can't believe in a heartless God.
What I've come to realize based on my own experience of struggling with all of these images of God is that each of them seeks to place God in a box.
And so throughout this series, we're going to be discovering new ways to think about God that are free from those kinds of unhelpful boxes.
I'd like to begin by asking you to do something for me.
Think of a time when you or someone you know struggled to believe in God because they thought they couldn't measure up to the standards that other people claimed God kept.
Maybe they thought God's love was limited and God was very demanding. They came to believe that if God was the kind of god who demanded performance, rule-keeping and the like... if that's what it took to make God love them...
They just couldn't believe in God.
Maybe that person was you. Maybe you've struggled with this image of God your whole life.
This is what we'll be working on together today. We're going to dismantle the box of the demanding God with this simple statement:
True love is never demanded.
Our conversation partner today is Romans 8:31-39, part of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans, which reads like this:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[a]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Don't you just love that? Honestly, this ought to be daily reading for all of us.
Let me break this passage down a bit for us. First of all, the entire passage is based on a single argument: If God is for us, who can be against us?
So what's your answer to this question? Paul asserts that God is for us, completely on our side. And so if God, the Almighty, the Creator, the Divine Presence in and throughout and around all of us and all things is for us... who can be against us?
The answer could be nothing, right? But more accurately it should be, "Who cares?" If God is for us then who cares what comes against us?
Paul definitely asserts here that there will come a day when all things will be set right by God. That finally God will get what God wants in all of Creation. Justice will be done by God through Jesus Christ.
And the God who does this... is the God who is for us. Listen to me... The God who brings justice to this world... The God who eradicates evil and darkness and all that comes with it... The God who is holy and true... This God is for us.
We will be tempted to believe otherwise, Paul indicates. There will trials and tribulations, challenges, seasons of sorrow, persecution, fears, doubts... and each one in their own way will tempt us to believe the lie that God's love is limited.
Paul blows all of this up and says that we will do more than prevail over these things that come at us, trying to shake our faith. We will be conquerors. Sound good to you, Church? I don't know about you, but I sure could handle feeling like a conqueror, am I right?
And so then Paul basically asks... So, dear reader--how can anything separate us from this kind of love?
What Paul is stating here is something so beautiful and true that I just had to share it like this:
God doesn't demand our love--God simply loves, which demands a different kind of response.
Let me explain how this matters to you and me.
Do you ever wonder why we love stories about unconditional, undemanding love? No? I do. One of my favorite websites is The Dodo, which tells stories of humans doing amazing things to care for animals who are in need.
I subscribe to The Dodo on FB so I often see their short stories like this one where they rescued a fox that had been hit by a car... or this one where some people found a blind, old, half-dead dog in a junkyard and brought him back to life, literally.
Through unconditional, undemanding love. There's nothing in it for these people except the joy of witnessing miracles, which isn't really nothing, am I right?
But still. The reason we feel this way when we see stories like this... the reason stories of unconditional, undemanding love resonate with us is because we long for that kind of love... and we long to give that kind of love, too.
We long for this because it's in us to long for it. We are embedded with the very DNA of God, created in God's image and the image of God within us yearns for us to know this. That true love is never demanded.
We're the ones who have placed God in a box labelled "demanding," but I believe that at some level even those of us who doubt and struggle with this image of God, has a feeling, an inkling that there is more to God than demands... there is more to God than some kind of quid pro quo relationship where we have to jump through hoops to earn God's love.
God is so much bigger than that. So much bigger than our boxes. The love of God is so much bigger than we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams. God is for us, not against us.
I have two questions for you today as we close.
What are the "nothings" that can't separate you from God's love? The things that you have thought were too much for God's love to overwhelm. But God's love has overwhelmed them. And God doesn't demand anything from you to receive that love.
I want you to name them right now. You don't have to say them out loud. You can just say them in your head, but if you feel led to say them out loud--go for it. What are your "nothings?"
Second, what kind of response does that kind of love "demand?" And that's totally a play on words because the demand would not be something external--coming from God. The demand would be inside of you. You would feel something, you would want to respond.
And the best and purest and most incredible way for you to respond to God's amazing, unconditional, undemanding love is to be the person that God longs for you to be. To desire God so much in response to that love that you, in turn, share that same kind of unconditional, undemanding love with the world.
God is not demanding. God is not checking lists waiting for you to screw up. God is for you. God is for you.
Because true love is never demanded.