I have been a follower of Jesus and a student of the Bible, now, for almost four decades. And the farther down that road I go, the more I am amazed at how so many people base their decision on whether to believe in God or the Bible, or not, on second-hand opinions or false pretenses. Sure, I can sympathize with them and understand how they can trod through life, year after year, without sensing the need to dig deeper to make sure they have sufficient evidence to choose wisely (afterall..we are only here for seventy or eighty years if we are lucky…eternity is a pretty long time, comparatively). Honestly, I was no different for the first twenty-five years of my life. I had dreams and aspirations…I was going places and Heaven or Hell was not on my list of destination choices at that time. So yeah, I get it.
But as I said, so many times when I talk to people about God, I hear many of the same objections and criticisms that would no longer hold water if they merely read the book they are so quick to dismiss. One thing I have found to be true with so many people I have talked to about the Lord, both believers and unbelievers, is that the more they have read the Bible and studied the Christian faith, they more likely they are to believe. You might think it would be the other way around. You know, the closer you look, the more fallacies or inconsistencies you might be able to find. But that is just not the case. At least, that has not been my experience.
What I wanted to talk about today, specifically, is one of those commons errors or misconceptions that I hear all the time. It seems that many people think of God as being egotistical or “stuck on Himeslf”…because He requires obedience, desires us to be thankful, and most of all….seemingly needs to be loved by us. And to be fair, there does seem to be some logic in that thinking. I mean, if God is all-powerful, all-knowing and totally sufficient in and of Himself, why would He need anything from us. Frankly, isn’t it we humans that need His love and grace? He needs nothing. It reminds me of the old joke we’d make about trying to buy Christmas presents for my Dad….”What do you get for a man who has everything?”
When I read the words of King David from Psalm 8, I tend to think he was feeling the same way:
“Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is your name throughout the earth! You have covered the heavens with your majesty. When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you set in place, what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?” [Psalm 8:1,3-4 CSB]
Surely, if Almighty God was able create the universe and all that is in it and keep things working like a fine clock for thousands or millions of years without our help, what could we possibly offer Him, who apparently lacks nothing? And if all of that is true, getting back the original issue at hand here, is God truly self-centered and uber-demanding….or is there a better explanation to be found (for those who care enough to seek the truth)? Maybe, for starters, we should get back to the basics:
So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. [Genesis 1:27 CSB]
Ok, God made us in His own image, but as we talked about last week, was that just in appearance only. Or, did He also impart some of His divine nature to us? He breathes…we breathe. He loves…we have the ability to love. He laughs and He cries….ditto here. And He apparently had the desire to produce creatures who are “like Him” (as we do) and He is obviously pleased when we do and think as He would. For those of you who have children, does any of this sound familiar? We can look to Jesus, who was not only our Lord and Savior, but a Son (and a perfect one at that), to see how He might view these things. Here is what He told His disciples:
Jesus said, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” [John 8:28-29 NASB]
I do not think it is coincidental that, within the Godhead, we are clearly shown a loving relationship between a Father and a Son. My first book, “Unlocking Creation,” talks a lot about how God used the things He made to reveal His divine nature to his children, often with the hope that we would choose to follow His lead. But Jesus did not come to Earth only as the Son of God. Let’s take a look at how the Apostle Paul described Him:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. [Colossians 1:15,19 CSB]
Paul is saying this Son was also the “spittin’ image” of His Father, not just in looks but through and through…the “image of the invisible God.” Ok…fine…but you may be wondering why I am stressing the example of Jesus, as God’s Son, so hard. My answer is…because Jesus became our example in many ways.
The point I wanted to make in this post, first and foremost, is that God does not need our love or obedience. No, He would be perfectly fine without. But like any good father or mother, love and obedience from His children is greatly desired and the best way to produce that kind of behavior from our children is to lead by example, to not just tell them to do something, but rather show them how to do it. And the Father gave us Jesus, the perfect example of His grace, mercy and love…not to mention obedience. Jesus was obedient all the way to the Cross…all praise and thanks to Him forever and ever.
You see, God does not expect anything of us that He does not do Himself. It is not egotistical or self-centered when you lead by example and set the tone…that others may follow. The Apostle John may have said it best:
Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. We love because He first loved us. [1 John 4:10-11,19 CSB]
OK….that seems simple enough. If God loved us first, it is not egotistical or arrogant to hope to be loved in return. Makes sense, right?
Let me switch gears, for a moment, if I may. Have you ever noticed that, as humans, we can also be fairly self-serving at times. What I mean by that is we tend to like or love people who are nice to us, or go out of their way to show kindness to us first. Let’s face it, isn’t easier to love someone who displays the ability and desire to be kind or loving towards you, than say….someone who is standoff-ish or has not taken an interest in you or extended a hand of goodness or friendliness in some way? We rarely reach out or try to make a connection with people who have not in some way opened themselves up to us first. Maybe it is just a smile, a kind word….or in some cases, a person might do something we perceive as “above and beyond the call of duty”…something that makes us feel special or appreciated. Have you ever noticed how a person’s face lights up, when someone says really nice things about them or does something really nice for them? Well, you may be surprised to find out that those things are actually evidence of God’s goodness or as I call it, divine nature, within us. He designed us that way.
I believe God imbedded software into the DNA of each and everyone of us that not only equips us to perceive when someone is being nice to us or showing kindness or love, and I believe He also gave us the basic ability to show kindness or compassion to others, as well. In fact, sometimes we feel led to initiate this type of goodness or grace towards others, without an expectation of it being shown to us in return. We call that type of love…mercy or charity. That is a special kind of love, for sure, but I believe that ability comes from God, too. And yes, I am sure you would agree….some folks have more of that than others, at least they act on it more often. But, then, some might say…”Ok, if God did in fact make the first move by showing us love and mercy, it would seem only fair that He would want us to show him love in return. But what proof do we have?” I am so glad you asked. The Apostle Paul answered that question very clearly, I believe:
“But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8 CSB]
Well, that sums it up quite nicely I’d say, but in closing, I would like to give you another picture, something we can all relate to, of how this all fits together…marriage.
In the Bible, one of the most common threads that runs all the way through it, is this idea that our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is to be like a marriage between a man and a woman. It is to be a covenant relationship (which means enduring or without end…one based on an oath or a promise). So let’s take a look at a few aspects of marriage and see if we can wrap it up and put a bow on this thing:
1) How does a relationship that leads to marriage generally start? One of the people usually starts by showing kindness or doing something nice for the other. And if the other person likes that person, too, they will likely do something nice in return. Isn’t that right?
2) Then, once the relationship progresses to the point where things get pretty serious, the man will take a big step by proposing to the woman. At this point, the man is offering his love and devotion in a more permanent way. But, now the woman has a choice. She is not forced to say “Yes”…she still has the option (or free will) to say “No.” I am thinking you are starting to see where this is going.
3) So the man has taken the first step, in demonstrating his love for the woman. But, he is not forcing her to be joined to him. He is asking her to be his bride. Of course, he wants her to say “Yes.” But He does not violate her right to choose for herself, because should she say “Yes”…should would be agreeing to take that oath and enter into a covenant relationship which comes with a promise….it’s a big deal…one that should not be entered into lightly.
So, do you see the connections between marriage and what we are talking about here? God is like the groom (actually, in the Bible, Jesus is called the bridegroom, the church is called the bride). He blesses us with many things and tries to woo us to Himself? And by sending His Son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, He is offering us the chance to be joined to Him, forever. But, He does not violate our free will, we can still choose to reject His offer. But the first step has been taken, His love towards us has been demonstrated.
This is why I do not believe that God is egotistical or self-serving. He showed His love for us first, many times and in many ways.
That is why I chose to name this blog post after the classic Beatles song (if you read my first book, you know that as a lifelong musician, I love to use classic song titles for names of chapters…etc). God is not forcing us to love Him. Not at all. He demonstrated His love for us first, and He is offering us the chance to be joined to Him, forever, by choosing to love Him in return….or as John, Paul, George and Ringo taught us:
“Love, love me do…you know I love you…I’ll always be true…so ple..ee..ee..eez….Love me do…yeah…love me do”
So simple, so plain, yet so direct. God says, “I choose you…now the choice is yours.”
How will you respond?
(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)