(This is the first of a three part reflection on what it means to be loved by God.)
Being third is all about getting your priorities in line with the Gospel: to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself (see above). Jesus flips around the “thou shalt nots” of the ten commandments to a pair of affirmative statements which center on our duty to love.
We aren’t, however, being asked to love God and to love others on our own; this invitation comes because He has loved us first. At the last supper, Jesus encouraged His apostles saying: “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:29). Spend time in 1 Corinthians 13 or 1 John 4 and you get descriptions of what that the Father’s love is like, and all of these ought to lead us to one inescapable conclusion: that we are loved by God.
The trouble for many of us is that the phrases God is love or God loves you have been repeated so often, they’ve lost a little of their meaning. We might equate them with the fairy tale ending and they lived happily ever after… it makes a nice story, but doesn’t happen in real life.
This is why I want you to take a closer look at what is meant when we read or hear about God’s love, so we can discover or re-discover this fundamental truth of our faith: that you and I are each uniquely and wholly loved by God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let’s begin by taking a look at what it means to be loved by God the Father.
For a significant number of people, to call God Father is a painful concept. While many people are blessed to have tremendous fathers or step fathers or surrogate fathers, others may have a very different experience of father. But there’s also no shortage of people who either grow up without any sort of dad in their lives or for whom the father figure in their lives is simply lousy at that role. The fact is that what makes a man a father – sharing in the creation of a human being – is less complicated than earning a learner’s permit. There’s no manual and no test required to become a biological dad – which means you get all manner of man who becomes a father; some embrace this, some flee from this, and while all of us to some degree or another can struggle with being dads, some simply fail at it.
When we speak about God as a Father, though, we’re not dealing with ordinary human dads, we’re dealing with a perfect Father who is all of the things we might admire about a dad and more. I often tell the true story of an Armenian dad who dug for 38 hours to rescue his son to help bring this to life. The long and short of it is this: God is our Father not simply as a reflection of our earthly dad… it’s supposed to work the other way around. Our Heavenly Father is all of the good things we’ve experienced and more.
We call God ‘Father’ in part because, like our earthly dads, He has had a part in bringing us into existence. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. You’re here because God wanted for you to be here, to be alive in this world. He has some reason for you to be here, something no one else can be or do. Take a look at the world around you, and you’ll see the order with which God created everything: from the food chain to the placement and angle of our planet to the ability created life has to adapt to the circumstances in which it is found. The world around us really is a marvel and testifies to the fact that God does not have random or accidental thoughts. You are the result of a thought of God – and it is also you have been willed and loved into existence by God.
It’s for this reason that I will argue with any parent who tells me that their child is an accident – because I don’t believe there is such a thing. While scientific/medical research into the human reproductive system has produced many advances in recent years (things that have helped save the lives of premature babies and mothers during labor), we have not reached a point where we can guarantee conception for any individual couple. We can test many things, subject people to many fertility treatments, and offer other procedures which can be morally problematic – but none of this guarantees that two people who want to have a baby will have a baby. It would seem that there is something going on here beyond our control that decides why a couple who really want to be parents can’t; and a couple who never had any intention of becoming parents conceive a child. This ‘something’ is more than likely a ‘someone’ – God – who chooses a variety of circumstances (planned and otherwise) to create human lives.
We may never understand His reasons on this side of Heaven why God brings us into the world in the ways that He does, and why certain couples are so unable to have children, but what I want to make crystal clear is those words of Pope Benedict I mentioned earlier: you are the result of a thought of God. You are willed, you are loved, you are necessary. No matter the days that you may feel like you don’t belong here or God made some sort of mistake, please come back to this simple truth: our Father doesn’t make mistakes, and your coming into this world may be the one blessing that comes from a difficult or tragic circumstance.
In part II of this series: we will see in Jesus the ways in which God spares nothing in making sure you understand that you are loved by God, and in part III, how God makes good on the promise to be with us always.