Mega Off-the-Charts Love

It’s always been hard for me to grasp the fact that I am a child of God. Oftentimes my reaction to this incredible Christian doctrine is a half-hearted smile undergirded with an apathetic “So what?” It’s not that I do not believe God is my Father, it’s just that the proclamation “You’re a child of God” seems to carry with it an air of superficiality, as if it were nothing more than wishful thinking. Why does this concept of such great weight feel so oddly weightless? What does it mean to be a son of God? Do I imagine myself as a little child who looks up at my heavenly father (some benevolent old guy on a cloud in the sky) with goo goo eyes while he pats my head and reassures me that “everything’s going to be ok”? Or is God a distant, stoic Father who folds his arms and tells me to “suck it up” whenever I am weak?

It’s a bit underwhelming. And thankfully, unbiblical.

I recently stumbled upon this little gem in J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God:

God was happy without humans before they were made; he would have continued happy had he simply destroyed them after they had sinned; but as it is he has set his love upon particular sinners, and this means that, by his own free voluntary choice, he will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till he has brought every one of them to heaven.  He has in effect resolved that henceforth for all eternity his happiness shall be conditional upon ours. 

I don’t know about you, but my relationship with God carries with it a sinful sense of entitlement. I truly believe I deserve God’s love. Why? Because I see my sonship a biological instead of adoptive.  

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Paul makes it clear that we are brought into God’s family through adoption. The Gospel of John asserts that we are not born of God through the flesh, but through the Spirit. Why does this matter? In general, parents have an obligation to their biological children to care for and love them. The child, in a sense, forces his or her way into the lives of two people who now know their are expected to sacrifice and make plans around this new life. If we have this view of God, then God’s love for us is the norm. We are born into privilege and take for granted the stability and warmth of a healthy home.

Parents of adopted kids have a different story. They do not have an obligation to love a child in a foster home or an orphanage. They can very live their lives unimpeded by the struggles and sufferings that accompany taking a troubled child into their home. If they decide not to adopt a child because dealing with his or her’s fits of anger, skin color, or psychological baggage is too much, who will fault them? Every adoptive parent has the right to look at an orphan and say, “No. I don’t want you.”

But the beauty of adoption is that two parents decide to set their happiness and joy upon someone who is not entitled to it. The parents decide that out of sheer joy and compassion, they will cast aside their comfort to love someone that will make their life more difficult and complicated. It will require great sacrifice on their part to adopt this child. Hours of paperwork. Vast sums of money. Agonizing months of waiting. But they do it. They do it because they know that an orphan can do nothing to force himself into a loving family. He has to be chosen.

This is how God saves us. He leaves his perfect life and enters into an imperfect and bloody world. He peers into our filthy crib, covered in the mire of our sin, guilt, and rebellion, and reaches in to pick us up. He all of our unbelief, doubt and imperfection to bring us home. He did not fill out paperwork, nor did he pay any sum of money, silver, or gold, but with his own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18). That’s the Gospel. The absolute truth that the God who deserved everything became nothing to give those who were nothing, everything.

“That God, in eternity, looked upon me foreseeing my fallenness, my pride, my sin and said “I want that man in My family, I will pay for him to be in My family with My Son’s life. That’s Love folks. That is mega, off the charts, love!” – John Piper


Follow the Thread

The blog name Follow the Threads draws its inspiration from a short story entitled The Princess and the Goblin by author George MacDonald. I stumbled upon the story through a sermon by Tim Keller called “Praying Your Fears”. And yes, I realize the blog title is plural. Somebody took the domain ‘Follow the Thread’ already.

The Princess and the Goblin follows a Princess who encounters an ancient, powerful fairy grandmother who promises safety and security. The grandmother gives the Princess a ring attached to a thread that leads to a ball hidden in a drawer. The Princess is promised that this thread, as long as it is followed, will lead her to right back to her godmother in times of danger. Of course, danger rears its ugly head in the form of snarling creatures that threaten to devour her. She follows her godmother’s commands and tightly grips her thread and follows it, but to her surprise, the thread does not lead her to where she knows her grandmother is. In fact, it leads her in the opposite direction – out the door and into the night. She continues to follow the thread, but the path gets darker and steeper as she is led right into the heart of a dark mountain where a horde of goblins await.

She tries to remember the light of her grandmother, her kindness, her security, but her heart begins to tremble as the path gets more and more confusing. She continues, steadfast in her commitment to follow the thread, until the thread disappears into a pile of rocks covering a vast cavern wall. She panics and looks behind her only to find that the thread  has disappeared. It only goes forward. There is no going back. In a fit of despair, she cries aloud and throws herself upon the stones. And then the doubt creeps into her mind. Has my grandmother forsaken me? Was this all some cruel joke?

Keller observes that this is a picture of what it means to follow and obey Christ. And I think he’s right. There have been many mind-numbing times when I know I have to trust God even when, especially when, everything is a torrent of uncertainty. And when the hard stuff hits, I never question whether God exists, but whether He’s trustworthy. C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'”

But thankfully, the story does not end there for the Princess. She gets her bearings and then realizes something profound: the only way through, is through. So she starts clawing her way through the rocks, hands bleeding, following the thread until she ends up saving a young miner who has been captured by a group of evil goblins. In the end, the Princess ends up saving her entire kingdom from evil.

And that was the plan all along. And the Princess never would have followed had she known how hard the path was going to be beforehand. And then where would she be? Holed up in her castle, completely static and unchanged while the young miner perishes and evil flourishes. Perhaps that’s why God’s plan for our lives can be so confusing. If we saw the whole thing, we’d be crushed by its complexity. And we’d never move. We’d never change. We’d never love or sacrifice.

I have to wonder if Mary, staring up at her bloodied and crucified Son, felt the same way the Princess did at the pile of rocks. Utterly crushed. Completely dejected. Wondering why she ever allowed herself to be fooled into hope.

But, as Keller beautifully puts its, on the other side of every grave is a resurrection. And maybe this is why we can trust God. Not because it’s easy. Not because we’re strong-willed, but because there is a greater story. A true story. The story of the Son of God who followed his Father’s thread through betrayal, slander, persecution, false trials, utter abandonment and ultimately, crucifixion. All the way to the grave. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wept at his dead-end pile of rocks, pleading the Father for any other way. And God said, “No.”

The only way through is through.

And yet, the greatest curse ever inflicted upon a human being became the most profound, soul-melting, and captivating display of love this world has ever seen. Jesus dug through the rocks to save us. To bring forth a kingdom. To reunite heaven and earth.

Now that’s a story worth telling.

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?… Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.” – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed