Sometimes, when I look at what Christians believe about God, I think: No wonder so many Christians have such low self-esteem!
I recently received a letter from a woman that I think is a really important one.A woman writes about all the theology that she’s been taught, and how it makes her feel like God tolerates her, but that’s about it. I get it. I really do.
Can you relate to this?:
Here’s what I’ve been taught: I am a sinner saved by grace, which means there’s nothing I can ever do to make God love me any more or less. All my best efforts are so tainted with sin that they’re disgusting to God. I am the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the worst of all sinners, and should be overflowing with gratitude that God loves me anyway, not because of who I am, but because when he looks at me he sees Jesus, because Jesus took my place. I just feel worthless. It’s the equivalent of my husband only being able to make love to me if he imagines I’m someone else! I don’t want God to love me just because it’s in his nature as a loving God, I don’t want him to accept me even though I’m really not worth it. I want him to like me!! I want to make him smile – not in the patronising way that some analogies use of me being his toddler daughter who makes him smile when she paints a messy picture. Don’t get me wrong: I accept that God loves me through grace and I am grateful for his acceptance. But I don’t want to stay there. I want God to be genuinely pleased with me – the actual me – and not to cast me aside to look at Jesus instead because that’s the only way he can stomach me. Is that really so wrong? And if so, how do I get to the place where I’m okay with God thinking I’m basically a bit rubbish and not end up with low self esteem? And if God adores me and rejoices over me with singing and I’m the apple of his eye then why does the teaching on grace (ironically my middle name and the one my Mum uses for me) always make me feel that God doesn’t like me (like when I did something naughty and Mum said ‘I’ll always love you but I don’t like you right now’)?
Sometimes I think many people know everything about God, but don’t know Him at all. People who teach this kind of stuff–I would definitely put them in this category. And this letter writer is right. Too often it’s portrayed that we are slime that God deigns to have a relationship with. And never forget you are slime!
So I have a simple little exercise that I often give people who struggle with how God feel about them.
If you want to know what God thinks of you, picture Jesus.
What did Jesus do when He was on earth? He genuinely enjoyed people!
I love this story that appears in Mark 2:
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Now, here’s a question for you: How did the teachers of the law know that He was eating with tax collectors and sinners? My guess is because they were pretty loud. This wasn’t just a few people having dinner together. This was a whole lot of people together having fun! And nothing bothers those mostly concerned about righteousness as other people laughing and having fun. And I’d bet that’s what was going on!
People flocked to Jesus because they wanted to be near Him. What kind of person do those of all social strata long to be near?
It isn’t a killjoy. It isn’t someone who goes around all the time saying, “you’re not worthy.” It’s someone who takes an interest in you, who talks to you and really knows you, and most of all–someone who laughs and makes jokes. Someone who genuinely enjoys life! I think Jesus genuinely enjoyed being with people and genuinely enjoyed life. I think He laughed a lot. After all, kids loved Jesus, and kids don’t love people who are going around being serious all the time.
Now, Jesus also said this:
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9; NIV)
When we see Jesus, we see what God is like. And so if Jesus laughed with people; if Jesus genuinely enjoyed people; if Jesus wanted to hang out with people–then Jesus wants to laugh with you. He genuinely enjoys you.
God Finds You Interesting
If those theologians are right, and God barely tolerates us, then I don’t think God would have created us in the way that He did. I’ve been reading through Dorothy Sayers’ book The Mind of the Maker, and her central premise in that book is that God is a creative God, and since He made us in His image, He made us to be creative, too. When we create–through art, literature, hobbies, anything–we participate in a godly endeavour.
If God truly despised us and tolerated us only because of Jesus, then there would be nothing worthwhile that we would ever do. He would have created us to simply worship Him and do nothing of our own accord. But on the contrary, He made us to also be creative–meaning that He actually values our own initiative and our own creation. It makes Him happy. And that means that you have the capacity to make God happy!
God Understands that We’re Human
One of my favourite stories is found in John 21, after the resurrection. The disciples had seen Jesus risen, but didn’t know what to do with themselves now. They were despondent, and had gone back to fishing. Jesus comes to them one morning, and the first thing he does is make them breakfast. Then He tells them, “Eat.”
He’s worried about them because He knows they’re hungry, and seriously–you can’t have a difficult conversation on an empty stomach. He understood where they were coming from!
Personally, I think sometimes we spend too much time on theology and not enough time just looking at Jesus.
Yes, we are born in sin, and we need Jesus for righteousness. But that does not mean that God is not pleased with us or does not take delight in us.
The doctrine that this woman is referring to insinuates that God doesn’t want to be anywhere near us except for Jesus–so He doesn’t really know us. Jesus and much of Scripture show us the opposite. God does want to be near us, and not only because He loves us, but because He notices us. Think of all the people that are named by actual name in the Old and New Testaments. Those names are all that remain of many of them; no stories or details. But those people were important enough to God that He wanted them remembered. Whenever you read those lists of names that seem so boring, just think: God wanted those people preserved because they mattered to Him.
You matter. You. Not just because of Jesus, but because of you. You were made in God’s image. You were given unique giftings and talents so that you could do amazing things on this earth, that God looks forward to enjoying! (Ephesians 2:10). He likes to laugh with you. He genuinely enjoys you. And if you’re surrounded by theology that teaches you otherwise–well, perhaps it’s time to get in touch with some different theology!
Have you ever felt like this woman does–like all the things that you’re taught about God makes God seem rather, well, mean? What was the revelation for you? Let’s talk in the comments!