I was putting my daughter Genna (11) to bed the other night and I asked her, “Honey, what do you think is God’s overall disposition toward you?” Her immediate response was, “Disappointed.” After probing why she might answer that way–wondering, perhaps, if the Holy Spirit had convicted her regarding something she may have said or done–I realized that she wasn’t feeling convicted about any particular sin, she simply sees God as someone whose feelings toward her are basically unhappy ones. She knows that God is perfect and that she is imperfect–she understands that God is holy and that she is sinful–and so it only makes sense to her that God is perpetually displeased with her.
Seizing an opportunity to preach the gospel to my daughter–AGAIN–I scrambled in my mind for an illustration that might help an 11 year-old grasp the liberating power of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Now, don’t be nit-picky. I know illustrations all break down at some point. But this was my best off-the-cuff attempt to help an 11 year-old sleep well knowing that God’s love for her is immutable (it’s actually kind of sad that I even have to say that).
I said, “Genna, imagine some stranger (let’s call him Steven) comes walking down our street right about the time Mommy is making dinner. He walks up our driveway, through our front door (without knocking), into our kitchen, looks at mommy and asks, ‘What’s for dinner?’ Now, you and I both know that Mommy is hospitable. But a complete stranger walking in our house would freak her out. She’d probably say something like, ‘Who are you? And if you don’t turn around and leave right now I’m going to call the police.’”
I continued, “Now imagine that same stranger comes walking down our street around dinner time with Gabe (Genna’s 17 year-old brother). The two of them together walk up our driveway, through the front door, and into our kitchen. Gabe looks at Mommy with his arm around his friend and says, ‘Mom, this is my friend Steven. Can he stay for dinner?’ Her response would be totally different, wouldn’t it? She would say something like, ‘Nice to meet you Steven. Of course you can have dinner with us.’ Then she’d get another place-setting and treat Steven like a son at our table. Why? Because he was with Gabe.”
I then went on to explain the difference between the way God feels toward those who come to him without Jesus and those who come to him with Jesus. Reminding her that, because of what Jesus did for her on the cross, God sees her as a friend and a daughter, not an enemy and a stranger, she smiled. I explained that God is a good Father and will discipline those he loves, but because she’s with Jesus, God’s affection for her is unchanging and his approval of her is forever.
Having talked to many, many Christians over the years, I know for a fact that a lot of them (like Genna) think that God is perpetually disappointed with them. Maybe it’s time the church spends more energy reminding Christians that God’s love for them is not dependent on what they do or don’t do, but rather on what Christ has done for them. For, as Luther said so well, “God does not love sinners because they are attractive; sinners are attractive to God because he loves them.”
I promise you, more Christians need to be reminded of this than you think–including you and me, if we’re being honest!