by Halle Sexton
Once, I heard a preacher spend a few minutes talking about how sinful we all are and how we daily forsake God. Very Romans 3:10-18. I was already well aware of my sin nature, but he really laid the conviction on thick. Then he told us he had a question that might trick us. He asked how we thought God felt about us.
I’ve always been taught that God loves me. It’s always the “correct” Sunday school answer. So I thought that surely that was the answer the preacher expected of us. Except he had said there was a trick.
It was probably only a few seconds, but I still remember, years later, an endless moment where I realized just how terrible all the things I had done were. It felt like the world went dark and the room closed in on me. How could God possibly love me? “That’s the trick,” the Devil whispered. “He couldn’t possibly love you.” I had always been taught wrong. It was devastating.
Then the preacher responded to his question, telling us that God does, indeed, love us! Despite everything! The world brightened again, but the doubt had sunk into the depths of my mind. I clung to the sliver of hope woven into the rest of the message, but I couldn’t shake the fear. I couldn’t see a way that I could be loved by someone I spent most of my time defying. How could the perfect being who created everything be anything but completely disappointed in an entirely imperfect, habitual sinner that can do no good without him? I tried to believe what I was being taught – that God does love me anyway – but the shadows hung on, frequently trying to pull me away.
Then I had a son. He’s beautiful, and perfect, and can do no wrong. Just kidding! He’s a little sinner and makes life far more complicated. But still, whenever I look at him, or think about him, I only feel joyful love. In the middle of him throwing a tantrum because I won’t let him play with knives, I adore him completely. When he pulls my hair or steals my glasses and laughs when I tell him “no”, I still want to hold him close. When he pushes me away because he doesn’t want to be snuggled, I let him, because I know he doesn’t understand.
And I think of how I must look to God. Tiny, defenseless, selfish, ignorant of so much, difficult, rule breaking, hurtful (sometimes on purpose!), and so much more.
I always thought I understood love really well. I didn’t think there was a kind of love I didn’t know the feeling of. But God is showing me daily that this love I now have for my baby boy is barely a hint at what He feels for us. If I—an imperfect, selfish human—can feel such unconditional love, how much more can God—the absolute image of perfection and creator of all—love his children?
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.