At church this morning, the pastor was saying that God does not find us attractive. Rather, God loves us because he loves us, not because we are inherently lovable. The pastor acknowledged that this may be hard to hear. But suppose we had a friend or a child who decided to go his or her own way. Would we not find that unattractive? We would still love our kids, and, similarly, God loves us.
A. That part about going one’s own way being unattractive needs to be nuanced, a bit. People could look at that and find it controlling. If I had a child or a friend who chose to go his own way, so what? Who says he has to do what I want? If the child or the friend is doing something manifestly evil, then it is a different story. I remember Tim Keller illustrating a similar point, albeit with different examples. Suppose we have a friend who only used us as a pitstop and the rest of the time wanted nothing to do with us? Or suppose we have a child who was utterly ungrateful for all that we did for him? There, the focus is on relationship rather than obedience. At the same time, Christians would legitimately argue that the God-human relationship should be one of obedience, since God’s standards are right, God is our superior, and obedience is how we demonstrate gratitude and love towards God.
B. Indeed, that part about God finding us unattractive is hard to hear. I don’t just want to be loved because someone has to love me. I also want to be liked for having certain qualities. Evangelicals like to talk about being special creations of God: God created us, with our talents, temperaments, and qualities, and, on some level, likes what he sees. Genesis 1 says that God saw what he made and pronounced it good. It is not that God notices my sense of humor, finds that attractive, and decides to accept me on the basis of that. Rather, God created people with their qualities. I would also like to think that, when we do good and have good motivations, God is pleased with that. Of course, there is the obligatory Christian spiel, which should be acknowledged. We are sinners. Some of what we do may please God, but we also do bad things that repulse God, and even the good that we do is imperfect.
C. I was talking with a professor of mine over a decade ago. He was surprised that I was attracted to God’s transcendence. Most of the young Christians whom he knew were attracted to God as a friend. “They cannot conceive that God might possibly have something against them,” he said. Related incidents come to mind. Tim Keller talked about people who love to blab on about their relationship with God. Keller asks them, “When does your God contradict you?” I recently came across one of these snotty, trying-to-be-profound liberal memes that said that, rather than identifying with the heroes of the biblical narratives, white American Christians should identify with the villains: the oppressive Pharaoh of the Exodus, the imperial powers that troubled Israel, etc. These things are difficult to hear.
D. Does my God ever contradict me? I realize that I fall dramatically short of the loving attitude that Christians are supposed to have. “I hate” such-and-such has been in my mind a lot over the past several months. I think that God wants to lift me towards higher attitudes and thoughts. I am reluctant to believe that he disapproves of me when I have a hateful, unloving attitude because I figure that he understands the reasons: people will not understand and will only see what they see, but God knows what is underneath. Whether that is wishful thinking on my part is a good question. After all, God commands forgiveness, even though, of course, forgiveness is hard for people to do.