That same year after my brother died, I felt God close to me. I felt him talking and loving me as I prayed, as I chewed on his Word, as I journaled my thoughts and feelings, as I drew away from others to focus on him. There was a lot of drawing away that year—I missed my brother and I needed God’s deep solace and comfort.
I remember one such night sitting on the ugly grey carpet of my bedroom surrounded with papers, books and my guitar: God told me something. A thought entered my head, a distinctly different thought and feeling and it immediately opened and cleared my mind and heart. An epiphany, my ninth grade English teacher would have called it. It put me at full attention, it made me pause, and then rise out of the room to find a roommate.
“You, all right, Grace?”
“Yeah, I think, I think God just told me something.”
“Oh, yeah? What did he tell you?”
“I think he told me that he loved me even before I became a Christian.”
My roommate looked at me quizzically. This thought was obvious to her—but nevertheless it wasn’t to me. For some reason, though Jesus had been Lord of my life for almost 7 years, though I had enthusiastically shared Jesus with others, though I was working on the Urbana Student Mission Convention, though I lived in a house full of InterVarsity workers—this was news to me.
Somehow, in the midst of those 7 years, I had believed that God loved me for what I did for him. I had forgotten his unconditional love for me that drew me to him in the first place. I had warped it—my past knee-jerk reaction was to perform, to believe that others (including God) loved me for what I did, what I could contribute, for how I behaved. Like the old hymn: “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…” Subtly, not-fully-conscious to me, I had been leaving the God I loved and making him into a God who was about something else. A God who was performance-based, because well, who isn’t? This was my experience, this was probably ingrained deeply in me all along.
And God knew this and in the most gentle and loving way possible corrected me. He is a God who loves, who loved me even before I became a Christian—before I started serving him, and following him intently. He loves me not because I serve or follow him, not because I obey him. My obedience and service and following are about me, they show that I love him (or try to). “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” 1 John 5:3 is about my love for God, not the other way around. Somehow, I had gotten confused and turned things upside-down. His love is not dependent on my love for him, he loves regardless. He has always loved. He has always loved.Out of love, he made us in his image: he dreamed us up and created us and set us in our mother’s womb. He put us in the families we were in—broken as they are. Out of love, he put us in the worlds that we’re a part of—broken as they are. But he made us in his image stamping us with his likeness, his likeness that points every human being to him, his likeness is the intrinsic worth of every human being. His likeness stamps us with potential, with potential to be like him, to be made like Christ, to be made new.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. -Ecclesiastes 3:11