If You Loved Me...

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

An image of a woman holding a banner over her head.

“Ok, that’s a dollar.”

“What, just because I called somebody stupid you’re going to charge me a dollar? If you loved me, you wouldn’t punish me. That’s not fair!!!”

I’ve had this conversation, or one like it, more than once because my children dislike being fined for calling people names. I think of the dollar as a symbolic pinch, a small discomfort to get their attention so they will stop doing what they shouldn’t. But sometimes protest erupts and out comes the canard about punishment and love being incompatible.

The “if you loved me” question can intrude into our own notions about God’s goodness. If you loved me, you wouldn’t let me lose my job, go through a divorce, become ill. If you loved me, I’d have enough money to buy a house, go to college, retire. An “if you loved me” habit can erode our sense of how good God has already been to us and how his goodness will ultimately triumph in our lives.

I wonder if Joseph, the one with the multi-colored coat, ever asked the “if you loved me question.” If anyone had a right to ask, surely it was Joseph, who as a boy had been sold into slavery in Egypt, betrayed by brothers who were jealous of him. It’s a long and wonderful story, but it wouldn’t have felt wonderful to Joseph when he was violently separated from the father who loved him and later thrown into an Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Who could blame him for questioning God’s goodness in such circumstances?

Though we don’t know whether Joseph ever asked the question, we do know how he answered it many years later when his brothers begged his forgiveness. By then Joseph had become a ruler in Egypt, a man of great power. His answer came through tears: You intended it to harm me, but God intended it all for good.

No matter what harm comes to us—and harm will come—we need to ask God to help us understand that even though others may intend harm, God intends all of it—every drop of it—for our good and the good of others.

The next time you find yourself in trouble, resist the temptation to wave an “If only you loved me banner” over your life. Instead hold up a sign that reads: “God intends it all for good.” Because he does.

 
Originally published March 13, 2018.

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