In his timeless book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes:
“Imagine that Jesus is calling you today. He extends a second invitation to accept His Father’s love. And maybe you answer, “Oh, I know that. It’s old hat.”
And God answers, ‘No, that’s what you don’t know. You don’t know how much I love you. The moment you think you understand is the moment you do not understand. I am God, not man. You tell others about Me – your words are glib. My words are written in the blood of My only Son. The next time you preach about My love with such obnoxious familiarity, I may come and blow your whole prayer meeting apart.
Did you know that every time you tell Me you love Me, I say thank you?”
Often, I fall for the belief that I have somehow spiritually made it. That I’ve graduated the basics of faith, moved on to the more complicated and sophisticated work of figuring out my own theology, my own interpretations of scripture, applying the teachings of God to the issues of the day like a PhD solving elementary questions. I take stills of God in my mind and pick him apart. I strain myself to solve him out, because I believe God gave me a brain to better understand him. To learn him, inside and out, and seek the real Truth in all of these hypotheses.
After all my years of trying to fight my way into God’s good graces, and then finally finding I was there all along, I fall for the idea that I know who I am and whose I am and that my value is a kind of concrete floor I will be standing sure-footed on for the rest of my life. I won’t have doubts, because I’ve taken that journey. My feet are beautifully calloused by that walk and I shall forever live in the afterwards. I won’t have to bother, anymore, with the basics of faith, the overly simplistic questions, because they are part of me, like scar tissue.
I am easily offended at this question: Do you know that God loves you? Uh-hu, I want to say. That’s kind of the point. That’s why I’m here. God is love and I love God, and we could talk about this all day but I think there are some bigger issues demanding our utmost attention. Let’s talk about how science informs our faith and vice versa. Let’s dive into the deep waters of soteriology and pneumology, creation myths and Divine grace. Let’s tackle this thing from all angles and figure out, grow in understanding, enter into enlightenment. We have no time to discuss the basics, we have the answers, move on.
Do you know that God loves you?
It’s a question that I so easily bat away, particularly from well meaning people trying to help me when I’m in my pain. During my depression days, I heard this over and over and over again: God loves you. He is here for you. You matter. And each and every time, I thought, this is not news to me. I know that. Things still hurt. It’s not the issue.
It’s a question that sometimes feels too reminiscent of the simplistic culture I’ve walked away from. The one with the literalists and the dopey-eyed jerks, vampire Christians who see Jesus as a means to a glorious afterlife end. It feels like: Jesus loves you, and that’s all there is to it! And I get that. I agree with that. But still. I don’t want to agree in the same vein that they do. To agree with them in that way would feel, strangely, like a capitulation. Like the next thing coming is a suspension of my brain with it’s wild curiosity, a resumption of chirpy worship ballads emotionally manipulating me and a weekly volunteer gig for Young Life. And I want to know the God that loves me in total, as I am, not as I should be. I want the one with the big outstretched arms always open. And the kind of love being sold by this particular strain of Christianity is anything but unconditional.
It’s a question that I respond to with “that’s Old Hat”, that’s elementary, basic, and I am better than that question. Then I move about my day from one experience of self-doubt to another of shame to another of questioning whether or not I am enough. And suddenly, the concrete floor caves beneath me. And I feel the distance between a simple declaration and nourished belief.
Does God love me?
It’s a humbling question. You have to set down your pride to face it, stop your eye-rolling and look at it. Acknowledge that maybe those evangelicals are on to something and it’s okay if it feels like capitulation, like a confirmation that you don’t have it all figured out. Say those words, I am loved and I am accepted, and work them into your heart like thread through a needle.
There is nothing elementary about this question. The depths of it are endless, the implications are paramount. The response we have points to the belief we hold about ourselves, about our worth, about how we see ourselves in this great wild world.
At the end of the day, it is the most important question and I am never 100% sure about it. My ability to accept that I am accepted hinges on me, and my hands are broken. Cupping them open to receive is an act of faith. Believing I deserve it in the first place is a mountain, it is a reach, but it is there, in that journey, in that holding out, in that summons, that I find the rope of grace. I grab it and hang on. I say the words again. I am accepted. I am accepted. I am accepted. And I allow for the moment where, as Tillich says,: “reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement.” I am back to the beautiful basics. Starting over. Feeling it for the first time, once again.