My last post was a review of The Shack. I share how the movie spoke to me as a recovering addict, particularly how it addressed two things I have trouble believing about God, one of which is accepting that God loves me, just as I am, not some future, “better” version of myself.
Most of the feedback I got was positive. A few wanted to argue the theology of the book or movie. And one comment broke my heart and revealed what I really mean to say when I say I struggle with accepting God’s love. He wrote,
“God loves me completely just as I am” does not mean that God likes you.
I responded by thanking him for his encouraging words and added, “God loves you, but doesn’t like you” would make a great bumper sticker.
My sarcasm was meant to shield me from being vulnerable. It was meant to protect me from saying the truth which would sound like this:
You know, much of my life I have believed that God doesn’t like me. It’s hard to imagine why He would.
See, it’s easier for me to accept that God loves me because it has been ingrained in me that this is God’s job. It’s what God does. I often imagine God loving me with the same enthusiasm with which I wake up on Mondays. God can be expected to show up on time and put in a good day’s work because, well, He’s God. God is supposed to love everyone.
But no one ever told me that God likes me.
Think about it with me. How many times have you heard it said, either directly or implied, that as Christians we are called to love everyone but it doesn’t mean we have to like them? I have heard countless messages about how I’m called to love my neighbor but it doesn’t mean I have to have them over for dinner, or go to a movie with them, or for that matter even acknowledge their existence. Just love them in my heart (what does that even mean?).
So should it come as any surprise that I assume this is how God views me? God loves me, but that doesn’t mean he wants to have dinner with me. God loves me, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hang out at Starbucks and listen to my fears about the day. God loves me, but he never laughs at my jokes.
The stranger who told me that God doesn’t like me in response to my movie review unwittingly revealed to me what is at the root of my biggest hangup. In my heart of hearts I don’t believe that God likes me.
Why do I have a hard time accepting that God likes me? My addiction makes it hard to believe anyone could like me. Especially after a relapse or a slip. In those dark moments I don’t even like myself. In fact, I hate myself. It’s hard to imagine that when I am at my lowest that God would want to laugh at my jokes or share a coffee with me.
But God not liking me is a lie, straight from the mouth of the enemy who loves to accuse me and keep me entombed in shame.
When I read the gospels I am met by a God who seemed to not only love sinners but actually liked being with them! Jesus appears to prefer hanging out with messes like me, those of us who are poor in spirit, more so than those who have no trouble believing – whether it be because of their good fortune, their perfect church attendance, their superior morality – that God likes them. Jesus actively sought out those who believed they had good reasons to doubt God loved them, let alone liked them, and befriended them.
Matthew’s gospel tells us the Son of Man came eating and drinking and those who prided themselves as God’s favorite teammates derided him, saying “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19). Apparently Jesus liked hanging out with sinners so much that it offended the church folk of his day who, like us today, loved the sinners but hated the sin.
Perhaps it was in the actual liking of sinners that set Jesus apart from all the others who merely “loved them in their hearts.” And even knowing it would get him killed, he kept liking them anyways, to the very end.
I think Jesus would pick the addicts first- sober or not – to be on his dodge ball team. I think Jesus would choose to have coffee with a codependent and hang on his or her every word. I think Jesus would give a prostitute a rose and tell her how beautiful she is before embracing her in a hug. I think Jesus would love taking a walk with anyone depressed and start skipping rocks over the pond. I think Jesus would have us all over for dinner and laugh at our jokes and tell some of his own. I bet he’d be the last to fall asleep.
It’s important for me to get to a place where I can believe that God doesn’t just love me, but likes me. God is, has always been, and will always be, my closest, truest friend. It’s important because when I stumble and fall, I won’t run to the person who I believe loves me because it’s their job to do so. I’ll run to the one I believe likes me and whom I believe missed me while I was absent.
I’ll close with a question from Brennan Manning, from his wonderful book Abba’s Child, which is teaching me a lot about how much my Daddy in heaven likes me. He writes,
How would you respond if I asked you this question: “Do you really believe God likes you, not just loves you because theologically God has to love you?” If you could answer with gut-level honesty, “Oh, yes, my Abba is very fond of me,” you would experience a serene compassion for yourself that approximates the meaning of tenderness.
I want to get to a place where I can answer that way. By God’s grace, I believe I’m on the right path. What about you?