Several years ago, I noticed a student who had been consistent in Sunday school attendance had abruptly stopped coming to class. With the encouragement of his mother, the student calmly confessed his beef with Sunday school: “I’m tired of hearing ‘God loves you’ over and over again. We get the picture.”
My initial response was to liken my experience to that of Luther (obviously I was living in fantasy land) who was criticized for preaching the same message- the Gospel of grace- over and over again. His defense was that he would stop preaching the Gospel when his people actually believed it. In this same manner, we effectively have a rule in our ministry that we always mention the basic Gospel- the depth of our sin and the abundance of God’s mercy through the Cross- in every lesson of every Bible study, talk, and class.
Upon further review, though, I started to understand and agree with the student’s critique. In a world where we love sushi, love our pet, love our newest app, love Katie Perry, love winter, love Frappuccino’s, love the Clippers, and love the smell of fallen leaves, well, love just doesn’t mean anything. To say “God loves you” parallels our feelings for the new Dorito’s shell at Taco Bell or John Mayer’s Twitter humor.
The word love has been bastardized and marginalized to the point of meaninglessness. While admitting that no language or word can represent the bountiful, passionate love which God has for his people, one must ask which terms rescue the reality from utter banality.
Here’s a start, drawing from scripture and from terms I would rather have a person tell me than “I love you”:
God rejoices over you: As Zephaniah says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.”
God notices you: This truth, leaning on God’s omniscient and personal nature, particularly lands with many students who experience estrangement from their parents.
God adores you: Well, it’s true.
God is crazy about you: An Anglican priest, Don Richardson, closes services by saying, “God isn’t mad at you; in fact, he’s crazy about you.”
God longs for you: This phrase may sound too romantically or sexually oriented, but the Song of Songs presents God’s love for His people as a passionate adoration likened to the longing of two people first in love.
God carries your picture in his wallet: Jerry Leachman, Washington Redskins chaplain and former YoungLife director, regularly uses this metaphorical phrase to capture the sentimental, parental love, which God maintains for his children.
God is fully pleased with you: Through the imputed righteousness of Jesus, God remains pleased with us. This blessing strikes a chord with teenagers who seem to attract the displeasure of parents, teachers, coaches, cops, friends, etc.
This catalogue is just a starting point for thinking more critically about capturing the wild love which God has for His people in a fresher, more meaningful way.
What are some terms that you use which powerfully illustrate God’s love?