Sometimes I want to believe lies.
“Fake news” is tantalizing and volatile, emitting knee-jerk reactions from even the most diplomatic of observers. We react, we make plans, we form opinions and theories around what might be true. We hold on to those things even when the facts are shown to be false. We struggle to dismantle the lie and admit we were wrong.
All of my adult life I’ve struggled to believe that God loves me. I’ve held to the notion that He generally loves me in that begrudging way that you love someone who gets on your nerves but you’re related so you have to love them. God promised He loves me, but maybe He wishes He could take it back if it weren’t in keeping with His character and that whole “I never change” thing. Perhaps on some level He regrets His promises to me.
I became a believer in Christ at quite a young age. My parents took us to church, conducted family devotions, and talked about the Lord with us so much that it was easy for me to believe that God loved me and gave His Son to die for me. I knew I did bad things. I knew I needed a Savior to rescue me. It was simple, and I guess that’s the beauty of childlike faith because I didn’t question the grip that God had on my young heart. My mother used to find handwritten notes crumpled up in my jeans’ pocket, full of scribbled letters of love and affection to the Lord. I don’t really remember that, but I don’t doubt it. It was before I let hard circumstances inform my perception of what God was like. When I was young, there was no question that God was the great Lover of my soul, and I found security in knowing my heart was His.
I remember exactly when my belief in His love began to unravel.
I was sitting in a doctor’s exam room, all the blood draining out of my face when the lady in the white coat said, “Probably never.” In a moment, just a fraction of a second, really—everything shifted, and my future seemed to come unhinged. I drove home that day in a blur of soul-crushing tears and disbelief. It was rush hour. I got stuck in traffic, and when I looked around at the people sitting in their cars looking so unbothered, I wanted to scream at the injustice of having my future tipped over and emptied of its contents while everyone else went about their business with infuriating normalcy. The “probably never” reverberated through the following months and years. We moved to another state and began a new life while I walked around in a fog with a gaping, humiliating wound that had to mean God didn’t love me.
Time marched on, but my wound didn’t heal properly because I didn’t apply anything besides a gauze sloppily constructed of bitterness and grief. The wound scarred over, but was always prone to reopening and infection. It festered when our ministry became the most unhappy and discouraging of broken-down things. It throbbed when illness and chronic pain robbed me of rest for years on end. And it finally became numb when trauma and sorrow took a hammer to my sanity after a long season of waiting.
I knew the Bible well enough to know that my circumstances don’t define God’s character. He does. But it takes faith to believe the truth, and sometimes it takes a while for that faith to overcome the lies that are readily presented for my spiritual consumption.
One morning, I sat on my couch and thumbed through my Bible listlessly. I was so desperate to feel something other than the pain my circumstances produced. I wanted to know that God wasn’t begrudging in His love, needed to believe that His love was stronger than my doubt. I had to be sure that the dysfunctional workings of my body and my heart didn’t detract from His love for me. I needed to be secure in who I was when God looked at me. I needed to know what He saw.
I was reading the book of Isaiah when something uncurled down deep. It was the slow opening of a tightly clenched fist, knuckles bloodless and white, palm littered with the imprint of fingernails. It didn’t happen overnight, but over long months of perusing and questioning and finally realizing I was doing this all wrong. I kept reading, and it kept happening. After Isaiah, it was a long year in the Psalms. And presently it is John. This pattern, once I recognized it, stood out from every page that I read. How had I missed it?
My Bible wasn’t about me.
Instead of looking for a way to feel loved, I began to trace the character of a sovereign, strong, faithful God all throughout Scripture. It was always about Him. It is always about Him. I didn’t know what to think about my circumstances, but the words of the prophets, the psalmists, and the apostles told me who God was—who He really was. Previously, I’d thought that if He loved me, He wouldn’t allow so much heartache. Why didn’t He miraculously step in and fix things? I believed He could but didn’t want to. Therefore, my logical conclusion was that He must not love me—me specifically—beyond His general declaration of love for what He has made.
But when I read about Him with my feelings on the back burner, I found that He wasn’t what I thought He was. Over and over I saw this phrase used to describe Him and His relationship with His people—faithful love— “chesed” in Hebrew. It’s a covenant love, a steadfast love, a committed love. It reads like a belonging, possessive kind of love. The kind of love I was desperate to know applied to me.
I bought a stack of spiral notebooks, and began to write down every phrase about God and His character that appeared in Scripture. Every morning, I read and wrote, taking a heavy hammer to my flawed and inadequate perception of God. It took some time, but subtly my vision changed. I saw that the Bible I’d read so much during my life as a believer in Christ was a book about God. I could find myself in it, but only after I began to see God rightly in His story. The more I wrote down in my notebook (God is sovereign, He is wise, He is compassionate, He is faithful when His people are not, He is present, He is just), the more plainly I could see my faulty approach to understanding God’s love for me.
His love isn’t based on merit, and sometimes He doesn’t express His love in the ways that feel like affection to us. Sometimes He puts us in the valley of brokenness so that we understand His faithful love is the only reliable source of sustenance. Sometimes He lets us endure hard things so that we understand that His promise to us wasn’t an absence of trouble but rather a covenant that He would always be with us. We can’t really know it in the green pastures of tranquility until we can learn it in the rough, troubled waters of suffering. Though in opposition to all we perceive about love, it is in the trenches of trials and adversity where God’s love for us is best grasped and understood.
What I needed, I found in the Word.
I saw that God is more than my perceptions ever allowed. His character is layered with faithfulness, and His love is sure. When He looks at me, He sees the beautiful covering of Jesus, and it is enough. When He captured my heart so many years ago, He promised to never let go of it. Because of His faithfulness and steadfast love, I am safe and secure in the palm of His hand. And no lie about His goodness is so strong as to pull me from the grip of my Father who is always faithful and always good.
Lord, let us rest securely in Your love:
1 John 4:7-21