This week I saw a ridiculous debate on Twitter, is it appropriate to say, “God loves you” to those outside the Church. How is this even a debate? Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This means precisely that even when we were outside the Church God loved us. God loved us so much that God was willing to be incarnate, live the life of a human, and suffer torture and execution at our hands. What else is there to say in response to this debate. If God is defined by love and if all are sinners (1 John 4:8 & Romans 3:23) then there was a time in the life of each person when God’s love extended to you when you were not part of the Church. To say that this is not so is to promote a works based salvation that says God only loves those who are righteous and do not deserve grace. The only way the New Testament makes sense is if God loves everyone regardless of their love for God (John 3:16-17).
Yes, there are certainly times when Christians will say to people outside the Church “God loves you” simply as a way to make that person feel good. And much like those street evangelists whose only words to a person are “you are going to Hell”, simply pronouncing God’s love and walking away does little to help the person being addressed. Our pronouncement of God’s love for people is not meant to be the only comment a person hears. Too often the statement “God loves you” becomes little more than a trite comment that is meant to help a person create self worth, as in “believe in yourself because God loves you.” But this is not the full meaning of the concept of Divine love and we do a disservice to people in allowing them to believe it is. I believe it is helpful to remind people of this fact. It is helpful to remind people of God’s love for them in the same way it is helpful for my wife to remind me of her love, not simply to make me feel good, but to spur me to reciprocate her love. Being reminded my wife loves me is a challenge to live in that love, to honor and respect her even when she is not around, to be concerned with her well being and to make her part of my life. The same is true of God’s love for us. Both Paul and John talk of God’s love for us in the context of how we live our lives. They remind us that God’s love is not because of the things we do, in fact it is often in spite of who we have been and are. But this love is meant to push us to respond in love. In his last speech to the disciples before his death (according to John), Jesus called them to imitate the love they had seen in him. The reminder to the disciples was that they saw God’s love in the way Jesus lived (even when they did not deserve it) and now they were to emulate it to everyone. [“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” G.K. Chesterton].
It saddens me that there are Christians who do not get this, who seem to want to make themselves into a special group of people worthy of God’s love. This is not the way of Jesus, the way of the Church is to recognize the gift that is God’s love and seek to live in accordance with that love, while spreading the message of that love to the world around us. There really is not a lot more for me to say, “Jesus loves me this I know” not because I am special or part of the Church but because I am human; that means Jesus loves you too. The question is not whether or not God loves us, the question is how do we respond to the knowledge that God loves us.