“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves’…”
-C.S. Lewis; The Problem of Pain
The idea of God loving me has never been a particularly emotional reality. To me, it has always been a fact – no more emotional than the sky being blue or the fact there’s a mall within driving distance of my house. It’s a simple reality with associated realities that are logical outworkings of the first. They make sense, and none of them require emotions in order to understand and accept, so I’ve never understood the people who get so worked up about it. I confess I tend to stay away from those types – not because I think they’re wrong, but because it’s weird. Getting emotional about uncomplicated facts means I’m likely to respond as though they’re acting like idiots (which I have not found to be a particularly helpful response with more emotional people…).
A big reason I don’t emotionally respond to love is that whenever I encounter the subject, it is usually completely separated from other equally important characteristics. Like C.S. Lewis says, when talking about God’s love we usually just mean His kindness or desire to see us happy, but ‘senile benevolence’ is not really love (as much as some may like it to be). Lewis goes on to say that God is not content with our personal happiness while we are deplorable creatures needing discipline, training, courage, maturity, or seeking after things that take us away from Himself. Despite our objections, love necessitates that He stretches us, disciplines us, and grows us into more lovable creatures. Additionally, there is no way to separate love from justice without them each becoming fundamentally different and undesirable. Love without justice is mere pity. It’s effectually worthless sentiment. But justice without love is just plain cruelty and so the two must coexist in order to be good. The truth is, if you want me to feel God’s love then we must begin the conversation somewhere other than kindness or benevolence. We must begin with His truth. We must talk about justice.
When God’s justice comes into question, so does His love and goodness. Almost everyone I know who does not believe in God holds such beliefs because they cannot reconcile a loving and omniscient God with the amount of pain, suffering, and injustice they see or experience in the world. And even though I understand the emotional hang-up, there is no direct correlation between human action and God’s goodness. Instead of blaming people or ourselves for sufferings, we blame God and demand answers: “If you’re so good and loving, then why did you sit back and allow (__Fill In The Blank__) to happen?” “If you’re so good, then why didn’t you stop (__Fill In The Blank__)?” We see a tiny picture and don’t understand the bigger one. We demand explanations without actually wanting the answers… We are fools.
The first time in my entire life that I questioned God’s love, I was really questioning whether or not He was just and good. I was 24 years old and had been raped two years prior. I had always been told that God was my Heavenly Father, but that didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t process how God, who I assumed to be present during the rape and capable of preventing it, could be good (or just) if all He did was sit there and do nothing. If He had been human and had sat in the corner and watched it happen without interfering in any way, how could anyone say that he loved me? I literally could not process it and could not feel God’s love (or more accurately, I couldn’t feel His justice and goodness). I’ll never forget the day I genuinely asked, “God, if you love me and are my Father, how could you have just sat there and done nothing while he raped me? That isn’t good or loving.” I did not ask the question as an accusation, but rather as a desperate plea to understand the truth. The moment I asked the question, I heard the answer in my spirit:
“Bethany, if I had interfered with him in that moment, I would’ve had to overrun his free will. I would have had to take away the very thing that makes you and everyone else in the world human. I would have temporarily forced him to be a mindless puppet, and then released him back to free will. Taking away someone’s ability to choose renders their actions meaningless. It renders love meaningless. I can only love you and you can only love me if you choose me, and that means having the freedom to choose evil as well. He chose evil, but I could not take away that choice.”
And in that moment, I understood. And in that understanding, I was loved. That answer didn’t return what had been robbed of me, but God honored me by speaking truth into my heart and helping me understand Him and that is what fixed my relationship with Him. I knew that I was loved and the feeling came by being told the truth. It came from having God speak to me and tell me the truth no matter how hard it was to understand. From then on, I realized there were bigger things at play than my own personal happiness and that what I was asking God to do by “saving me” from being hurt would actually be an unloving thing to do in the bigger picture. It helped put my upbringing and all the abuse of my life into perspective. For all the injustice of my life, I realized that God has to allow for the possibility to choose evil over good because that is the only thing that makes the good worth something. God gives us the freedom to choose evil if we so desire, even with the knowledge that we will abuse it and use it against one another and Him. Yet He still offers it, knowing that our choice to love and to be with Him is only made valuable by having the freedom to do otherwise.
God fixed the truth into my heart that day, but Satan was not finished with me yet. Six years after the rape, I went through a different trauma that made the first feel like a walk in the park. And this time, the previous truths didn’t apply, nor did they explain the pain I was experiencing. The second trauma was not my fault, but I blamed myself for it anyways and nothing took away that specific type of suffering. For some reason, the only thing my emotions wanted to do was turn on myself and as the host of self-condemning messages flooded me, I was instantly separated from God – totally alienated from His truth, love, or justice. Logically, I could tell myself I wasn’t responsible for someone else’s choices and actions, but my feelings and emotions still condemned me regardless and there’s no way to combat that. You can’t repent for something someone else did – even if you feel responsible for it. No matter how hard I searched, there was no justice or solid truth anywhere, and the concept of free will didn’t apply. There was genuinely only one thing, and that was complete and utter darkness. Condemnation and darkness. I begged for God to speak to me the way He did before, desperate for an answer or some word that would help me understand how or why it happened. But the answer never came and I was forced to question once again whether or not God loved me or cared – whether He was just or good. It took weeks after the traume for me to even think straight and much longer to feel anything other than panic or numbness. It has now been 8 months since and I can’t say much has circumstantially changed, but I have learned a few things.
I’ve learned there is a level of brokenness that goes deeper than any words can describe, and trying to describe it only cheapens it.
I’ve learned that Satan is real and active in this world, and that denying that fact only makes us accomplices to it.
I’ve learned that ignorant people are just as dangerous as evil ones.
I’ve learned that some people legitimately do not choose their actions, but they give their hearts to Satan and that still makes them responsible.
I’ve learned that I can relate to nearly anyone, but almost no one can relate to me.
I’ve learned there are some things to which only silence can do justice. Some things can only be experienced, not spoken, and the best way to communicate an understanding is simply in a look, a touch, or a kiss. But mostly…silence.
I’ve learned that the people who think they know how to help, usually don’t.
I’ve learned that God is not always going to exact justice in my timing. I’ve learned to trust that in the end, it will come…and it will be worse than anything I can imagine myself.
I’ve learned that Jesus didn’t get justice in His lifetime either, but He still loved God and so should I.
I’ve learned that God isn’t always going to answer my questions, but He is going to love me and sometimes that brings unspeakable pain.
I’ve learned that God loves me enough to break my illusions about love into a zillion pieces. He loves me enough to walk with me through the pain of that, and give me the experiences that allow me to relate to Him more. He loves me enough to hurt me with the truth even when it nearly destroys me.
I’ve learned that God loves me enough to turn me into the image of His son. And His son was betrayed, beaten, bruised, and broken so I should really start getting used to it.
I’ve learned that it is people who are evil, twisted, abusive, selfish, and stupid…not God.
More than anything, I’ve learned that love is not easy. It does not feel good. It does not always make sense and it does not equal happiness or contentment. I’ve learned that love is always in the truth, no matter what that feels like, and that perfect justice will come in the end – even when there is absolutely none within the circumstances in which I live. I’ve learned that God is good, He is Love, and He is just. I have learned to love him, understand him, relate to him, and believe in Him more now than I ever have before, even if He did allow the gates of hell itself to swallow me whole. I’ve learned that He is perfect, He is trustworthy, and He is true. And I’ve learned that love and justice will always coexist in perfect harmony with Him, whether I see it with my own eyes or not, and that I would be a disparaging fool to doubt it.