God's Total and Unconditional Love
By Jim Allen
Knowing how to deal with our thought life says a lot about a person. Believers who have it all together need no help. Life for them is a breeze. They know how to live the abundant life. It fits them like a tailored glove. They are blessed! They love and forgive. Everything they think about is perfect, neat and orderly. They make no mistakes; there are no regrets. They reason flawlessly about everything and always say and do the right things. Life is great!
Wouldn't it be nice if it were true? It's not, at least not for me and some of you. I know because unexpected trials are part of my life. Sure, there are moments when life is smooth-going but then life happens. Our thoughts of peace and joy on the seashore of life come apart, like a sand castle, when a rogue wave hits. Taken back by the washout, life gets convoluted when the shovel we need to rebuild is somewhere under the sand.
What we think about at those moments in life is vital. We have the option to view the washout (trial) as divine reprisal for our imperfect life or as a opportunity to grow in faith. To think or find reason to believe God no longer loves us when life becomes hard seems to be a common response. It's like a cloud blocking the sunshine.
Without the light we sense alarm and wonder if our failure to perform perfectly is the cause, fearing God might cast us away. I know the thought is extreme, but believers surely must sense it from time to time. The Bible says God's ways are not our ways, which to me proposes His love toward us is quite different from what we think (Isaiah 55:8). Is not drawing near to God, not away from Him, the whole idea behind faith (James 4:8)?
Remember the parable of the prodigal son who left his father's house to travel to a far country to enjoy the pleasures of the world? After a time of wanton living, the unruly son found himself living among the swine, eating as they. He wondered what could have happened to bring his life to a beggarly existence. He realized his trial was the result of sinful rebellion and feared his father would no longer love him. Upon the prodigal's homecoming, the father was more excited about his young son's return than the older son's stay-at-home faithfulness. From the parable one would think the father loved the prodigal more than his older son (Luke 15:25-34). But we know this could never be the case.
The central theme in this beloved parable is the father's love for the wayward son never diminished. Even though the younger son left home, and the father sensed great loss and agonized the nights away, his love for the runaway remained resolute.
Many of us have family members living like prodigals, having chosen to travel to the far country. We too sense loss and agony. Still, our hope is eternal and our prayers continue; and we look daily for their silhouettes to appear on the horizon.
So then, how does the parable of the prodigal apply to us? How is total (unconditional) love part of this parable?
Imagine an outdoor public event on a summer's day. The sun is shining while thousands of people mill about. No one is receiving more or less sunlight than any other. God's love is like the warm rays of the sun. Every photon brings a gentle touch of warm light, a blessing everyone receives no matter their place in life. The same is true of all believers no matter their place in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
Though a dark cloud may pass over the crowd and block the sun, it's still shining; it's just that they can no longer sense its warmth. The same would be true for the prodigal. The father still loved the younger son even when the cloud of rebellion (sin) passed between them. Now restored, the son could once again enjoy the warm embrace of his father's love (1 John 1:9).
Even though the love of God shines on, a trial can cause a cloud of doubt to move in and we stop feeling the love. It's like a rogue wave that comes ashore to make a mess of things. When that happens, the war between feelings and faith begins and we struggle. John MacArthur is well aware of struggling believers and says one cause of doubt * happens when...
...they can't see the hand of God in all their trials. They say things like "How could God love me and let me go through this?...How could He not hear my prayer and deliver me? Where is God when I need Him?" People who think like that not only sentence themselves to doubt but also miss what is actually the strongest source of assurance: proven faith. These kinds of trials are examples of dark clouds coming between God and believers. They lead to doubt and then to unease and continue until all the dominos fall; and then we're beside ourselves trying to reset each one to get our faith back on track.
But the love never stops. We just think it does. Our understanding of love comes from the world's meaning of love, which is conditional. That kind of love is earned. God's type of love is unconditional, founded on grace and given freely to his children (1 John 3:1).
Because we measure love by human standards, it can be hard to imagine what it means to be loved unconditionally. We understand passionate love, and young love, and first loves...To some small degree that is the way God loves us. He holds on tightly to us, even when the going gets tough, and loves us at our very best and our lowest worst. (Source)So, what's the message? It's this: God views you and me as so valuable that He came personally to give each a new heart and put within it a new spirit (Ezekiel 11:19). His divine touch gives life, causing the heart to pulse with a love that is complete and perfect and always present (1 John 4:16-18).
God wants us to call upon Him so we can know and be assured of His love, watchfulness, and protection (Jeremiah 33:3).
In closing, God's love is more than doctrine. For the believer, it's life eternal with the promise of peace and joy now. The next time you go outside and feel the gentle embrace of warm sunlight on your face, let it be a reminder that you live in the grip of His perfect love.
* While the "trials of life" can and do cause true believers to doubt God's love, there are other causes too not mentioned in this article. Some are unconfessed sin, disobedience, lack of biblical knowledge, and unresolved guilt; also included is unforgiveness and love for the world and its many idols.
1. MacArthur, Jr., John; Saved Without A Doubt: Being Sure of Your Salvation; John MacArthur Study; p. 119); David C. Cook; Kindle Edition.
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