Way back when I was a theology student, one of the strongest rules I learned came from the professor teaching us pastoral counselling. Our group was assigned to do our practical work in a long term care hospital specifically for people with chronic lung problems. During our initial briefing, we were given this basic and most important rule: “Don’t sit on the patient’s hospital bed.” This was undoubtedly an important rule–sitting on the bed while convenient for the visitor did tend to make movements that upset the patient and likely increased the possibility of catching something from or giving something to the patient. I have tended to be pretty good about obeying that rule.
But an even more important rule for me has always been concerned with the love of God. His rule is that he loves me unconditionally and permanently. Nothing can make God love me more or less. His love for me–and the rest of humanity–is basic and unchanging, a constant in the ever-changing universe that we inhabit.
This is one rule that I have no interest in challenging or changing. But as I look at the church and how we have approached this rule over the years, I discover that unfortunately, none of us in the Christian faith has been all that great about keeping the reality of this foundational rule in front of us. Some of what I read, hear, see and occasionally practise myself suggests that the rule about God’s absolute and unconditional love is open to flexible application.
There is a church group, for example that regularly proclaims that God hates homosexuals, although they prefer to use a derogatory term for homosexuals. I have heard Christians suggest that we need to do something about Muslims because God doesn’t love them. I know of believers who are anti-immigrant because it seems that to them, the love of God doesn’t apply to immigrants, at least from some places and from some historical periods.
There are also the traditional theological flash points in our faith where believers line up and call names or worse, on the assumption that God can’t really love someone who doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible or the right of homosexual couples to be legally married. The aura of anger, hatred and nastiness seen in such confrontations brings into serious question the reality of God’s universal and unending love.
But if this one basic and foundational rule isn’t true or is open to interpretation or is seriously flexible, none of us has a chance. If that rule that God loves all equally and totally isn’t true, then there is really no hope for any of us, given the reality that none of us is perfect. I think we sometimes get so focused on pointing out the flaws and imperfections of other people that we forget to look at the reality of our own. And if we do look at our own imperfections, they are obviously relatively minor, more like endearing quirks than actual sins and imperfections.
Maybe that is inflexible rule number 2: none of us is perfect. We are all in some way shape or form tainted by our personal experience of rebellion against God, which is what the Bible calls sin. And because we are all in that category, we all need rule number one to be true: we need God to love us no matter what.
And if loving us no matter what is God’s number one personal rule, then we who claim to follow God through Jesus probably need to put a whole lot more effort into understanding, following and showing that rule. Now, keep in mind that God isn’t going to love us more if we do a good job of this nor is he going to love us less if we do a poor job of this. He is going to love us with his pure, unending and unlimited love, just the way he did before creation and just the way he will continue to do for all eternity.
I may not always like the rules that limit how fast I can drive; I may get annoyed by the rule that says I need to wear a tie in topical heat; I may find the rules about standing in line irksome when I could easily push people out of my way–but this rule, the rule about God’s unlimited, unending, unchanging, eternal love–that rule I like and am glad that nothing in all creation can change it.
May the peace of God be with you.