The Problem of Misplaced Love
I love a good romance and have watched BBC’s five-hour production of Pride and Prejudice at least ten times. Maybe I should be embarrassed by this. I’m not. Every human heart aches for love, so of course we enjoy a good story about it! Countless songs have been sung, books have been written, and movies have been made exploring this theme. Sometimes the love portrayed is nothing more than a shallow rendering, revealing how much sin has contorted the concept. But there are plenty of honest portrayals of love too. Whether centered on romance or family or friendship or community, the best stories depict sacrificial and enduring love. The kind that is faithful and deep. The kind we all crave.
Our craving for love is good, for we were made to be known intimately and loved faithfully. However, when misplaced, this craving becomes deeply destructive. We idolize friendships and are left embittered when our friends inevitably let us down. We chase after fleeting passion and fall to sexual sin. Desiring ease in our relationships, we recoil from the cost of forgiveness, faithfulness, and perseverance when they get hard. We place our worth in human approval and are devastated when we don’t receive it. We expect others to fill us in a way that only God can, and then resent them for falling short.
Only God’s love is perfect. Only God’s love can satisfy our longing hearts. So we must consider, what is this love actually like? To understand God’s love, we can’t simply refer to a list of adjectives describing it. We must understand who God is.
Loved by a Savior
First, let’s consider how God showed his love by becoming our Savior. Jesus enjoyed complete unity and glory within the Trinity. When mankind rebelled, arrogantly declaring mutiny against our Maker, a plan, formed before time began, was set into motion. Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8).
Love sent Jesus to earth. He saw our hell-bound state and was determined to intervene. While our tongues cursed his name, he was writing a new song to put on them. While our fists shook in anger, his hands were nailed to a cross. While our hearts were dead in sin, his beat so passionately for us that he bore the punishment we deserved. His dying breath breathed life into us.
One of the most comforting aspects of being loved by Jesus is that he knows us completely. Even those closest to us don’t know everything. They don’t see our wicked musings and intentions and desires. We can’t even see ourselves clearly or understand ourselves fully. But Jesus knows it all. Absolutely nothing is hidden from his sight, and he loves us anyway. Pause for a moment and take that in. This isn’t a case of Jesus loving us and then finding out about all our baggage—when he bore our sins on the cross, he knew exactly how putrid they were. He also knew how damaged our affections for him would be—that even after receiving his gift of salvation, our love would be fickle. And yet our darkest thoughts, deepest sins, and deficient love didn’t drive him away. What amazing love!
When we wonder how God feels about us, we must look to the cross, for hanging there is a stunning manifestation of his love (Rom. 5:8). There was no obligation, no ulterior motive, no merely altruistic purpose at work. Jesus sacrificed himself on our behalf because he loved us. He didn’t love us because we were lovely but because we were his—chosen and beloved even before our first breath. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Loved by a Friend
God also demonstrates his love as our friend. Honestly, I don’t dwell on friendship with God very often. The term seems almost irreverent. And yet it was Jesus who said, “Greater love has no
one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:13–15).
It is an astounding comfort to be called a friend of God. When we think of God as our Savior, or Father, or King, or Lord, there’s a vertical emphasis to the relationship—we are the debtors, children, and subjects who are called to submission. In friendship, however, there is a horizontal emphasis.
Jesus doesn’t only reign and rule over us; he chooses to walk alongside us as a “friend of sinners” (see Matt. 11:19). He sympathizes with our weaknesses because he experienced them. He understands the temptations we face because he faced them too. In the same way we talk to our most trusted friend about our struggles, we can talk to Jesus. We can pour out our hearts before him and trust him to handle them gently. And as the only sinless friend we will ever have, he helps us in ways our friends never could.
When we wonder how God feels about us, we must look to the cross, for hanging there is a stunning manifestation of his love.
Loved by a Father
In perhaps his most tender expression of love, God also loves us as a father. The good news doesn’t end with our sins being forgiven. Astounding as the truth is, it gets even better: “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” (Gal. 4:4–5). The climax of the gospel isn’t forgiveness; it’s adoption! Sin made us orphans. We were utterly helpless and hopeless until the Father came to our rescue.
My dad is one of my favorite people in the world. Our relationship has been instrumental in forming how I think of God as a father. I associate the title of father with respect, trust, closeness, and affection. Yet for many, the concept of God as father is disconcerting. Maybe your father was cold and never showed the affection you craved. Maybe you lived under the perpetual feeling that you were a disappointment to him, no matter how hard you tried to make him proud. Maybe your father’s absence or abuse left gaping wounds in your heart. If your earthly father has brought you nothing but heartache, the thought of God as father might make your skin crawl. This is the sting of living in a broken world—it was never supposed to be this way.
When God calls himself our Father, this is what he means: when we are caught in sin, he will rescue us; when we wander as prodigals, he will welcome us home; when we are fearful, he will shelter us; when we are vulnerable, he will protect us; when we are sad, he will wipe our tears; when we are lonely, he will remain near. He shares in all our joys and all our sorrows. He watches over us day and night and pays attention to every detail of our lives. His heart bursts with such love that he rejoices and sings over us (Zeph. 3:17).
God’s love for us isn’t temperamental or tied to our behavior—it is devoted, passionate, trustworthy, and unchanging. A. W. Tozer expresses God’s love in a breathtaking way:
Because God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit; because He is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because He is immense, His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed.1
The Father will never forsake us. Once you have been brought into his family, he won’t let you go.
Love That Lasts
God’s love is so amazing that it seems too good to be true. It tempts us to wonder. Is there a catch? Something we might do to mess things up? The answer is both simple and astounding: no.
Our standing before God doesn’t rest on the purity of our love but on the perfection of his! Though our love may falter, his always remains faithful. It doesn’t ebb and flow based on our obedience. It doesn’t play favorites or ever grow cold. Paul reassures us, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
God’s love for us is steadfast—persistent, unflinching, sure. His heart toward us is gentle, always brimming with compassion and always working for our good. His affections for us are deeper and wider than we can fathom, even higher than the heavens are above the earth. From everlasting to everlasting, in every moment of every day, God’s love never ceases—great is his faithfulness.
- Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 98.
This article is adapted from A Hunger for More: Finding Satisfaction in Jesus When the Good Life Doesn't Fill You by Amy DiMarcangelo.
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Because of the way that our culture tends to think of love, being told God loves you can fail to land on us with the beauty and significance that it should.
There are so many ways that we can foster a hunger for Jesus, but the most important and primary thing is to be praying for the Holy Spirit to change our hearts.
Amy DiMarcangelo talks about how our many longings point us to Christ—the only person who understands our every need and offers us eternal joy in himself.