It’s something as Christians we all know. We probably hear it on a regular basis, and must of us could quote handfuls of scripture about it. The most obvious one being, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Yet while it easy to say that God loves us, it is a completely different thing to actually accept it for ourselves. For any of us, knowing God loves us is like knowing God is our father. We may know it, but we’re going to keep it at a distance because it makes us a little uncomfortable. We may not even realize that we’re doing it, and yet we still do.
The Uncomfortable Truth
At its root, the reason we do this is because we feel unlovable. It may not be something we admit, even to ourselves, and yet it is still there. If we saw ourselves as lovable, believing that someone loves us would be easy. But when we feel unlovable, hearing someone say they love us sounds foreign to us. It doesn’t match up with how we think of ourselves.
This feeling could come from past mistakes, where we feel like God could never love us for what we’ve done. Or perhaps it comes from a past relationship where we were made to feel unlovable and it stuck.
A brilliant illustration of this can be found in the play Man a La Manch, based on the book Don Quixote. In the play, we have Aldonza, a prison cook. While working in this prison, Aldonza chooses to sleep with most of the inmates, either for money or for the thrill of it. But it’s her self-esteem and self-worth that take the hit from living like this. Then along comes Don Quixote, a bit of a would-be knight, and he immediately falls in love with Aldona. He begins to woo her, calling her “my lady” or “Dulcinea,” which in the original Spanish meant “my sweet.”
Finally, one day she has had enough, and pours out a torrent of rage and self-hatred upon Don Quixote. I’ll paraphrase:
My mother gave birth to me in a ditch and left me there. If I had any decency I would have died. You call me a lady, but ladies can proudly point you to their fathers. At best I can point you to the men of an entire regiment. Ladies live these upright lives, yet I have spent mine on my back, just a cheap kitchen whore. Blows and abuse I can take and give back again, but tenderness I cannot bear.
We can often feel like Aldonza. We have all these past hurts and things that we don’t like about ourselves, and we choose to push them down, grit our teeth and bear life. But then along comes God who tells us He loves us and begins to bring back up all these things we’re pushing down. As we begin to feel those hurts and pains again we push down all the harder and push God away. We keep Him at a distance.
The Power of God’s Love
The problem is when we do this we miss out on all that God has to offer us. We miss out on the power of God’s love.
Perhaps on of the most overlooked stories of God’s love in the Bible can be found in Luke 19. Here we met Zacchaeus a tax collector. At the time, as I’m sure it is today, tax collectors were universally hated. They were seen as crooked and heartless. The lowest of the low. Surrounded by this Zacchaeus ended up becoming the person everyone saw him as and regularly conned people out of their money.
One day Jesus is walking through the town, surrounded by a great crowd, and Zacchaeus decides he wants to get a look at this Jesus he’s heard so much about. So, being a short guy, he climbs a tree to get a better view. Walking under the tree, Jesus stops and looks upwards. He calls out “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” To invite yourself to someone else’s house wasn’t considered rude in Jewish cultures. It was a sign of friendship. In other words, Jesus was saying “Zacchaeus, I’m interested in you. I want to get to know you better. Let’s eat together and enter into relationship with one another.”
The change in Zacchaeus was instantaneous. “I [will] give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Just knowing that someone cared about him transformed Zacchaeus from someone who was bitter to someone who was full of joy. From angry to peaceful. From selfish and only focused on themselves, to generous and focused on others.
Going back to Man a La Mancha, Don Quixote is not put off and continues to woo Aldonza. Over time, she begins to let him until finally she declares, “I am Aldonza no more. I am Dulcinea—my sweet.”
Because someone chose to love her and she took the courage to let them, her whole personality and view of herself changed. She went from calling herself a “cheap kitchen whore” to “my sweet.” She began to see herself as Don Quixote saw her.
Accepting that God loves us isn’t easy. It takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable, even when it hurts. But by taking that step, we can step into the person as whom God sees us. We can become free from all those past hurts.
God loves you. Are you willing to let Him?