In my last post, I wrote that “God likes me” is a notion that gets much closer to the real meaning of the phrase “God loves me, for me.”
So are you saying that God likes everything about me, even my sin?
Let’s start at a place that is seemingly far from the topic of the question. Marriage as the union of two people is a common theme in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul invoked marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. God wanted an exclusive, marriage-like union with Israel but, as the prophets frequently noted, invoking the phrase “playing the harlot,” Israel had a proclivity for seeking after other gods. Jesus talked about the union (marriage) of the branch and the vine in John 15. The overriding message of the Song of Solomon is union and communion with God, the latter phrase being the title of a short commentary on the Song by Hudson Taylor.
God, it seems, wants me to be married to Him, just like I am married to my wife. Rather than contemplating the question above, as written, it might be useful to start with the related question, “So are you saying that my spouse likes everything about me, even my sin?” Put in these terms, the original question now seems silly. Of course my wife doesn’t like my sin! There are many things about me that my wife likes and they comprise the reasons that she married me in the first place (it certainly wasn’t for the money!). My wife did not marry me for my sin, but in spite of it. We both know that sin does not help our relationship; it does exactly the opposite. Sin even has the potential to destroy it. In fact, one very effective way to determine whether or not something is sinful is to consider the effect on the relationship. Anything that threatens or impedes my relationship, or reduces intimacy with my wife, is sinful. Ideally, when sin crops up, forgiveness is granted as needed and the relationship moves on. Despite the possibility of forgiveness, there are certain sins that can kill a relationship. Having an affair or having sex, even once, with another person are examples of sins that can terminally damage a marriage. Other sins are not so blatant, but can still destroy a marriage. Chronic disrespect, over the years, can just as easily do in a marriage as having an affair.
My marriage to God is just like my marriage to my wife. God wants to be married to me, not just because He loves me, but because He likes me. He made me just the way He wanted, with a free will to choose Him, just as I chose my wife, whom God made in such a way that I would really like her. Unfortunately, my free will also grants me the ability to sin against my wife, and against my God. If there is any difference between human marriage and marriage with God, it is this: God is interminably forgiving. Even when I have an affair with another god, God always forgives and invites me back into relationship with Him.
Nevertheless, God does not like my sin any more than my wife does, and for the same reasons. Sin harms me, and does damage to my relationship with Him. I know from experience that my sin hurts my wife. I do not often think about the impact of my sin on God. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God notes “how I have been hurt by [the Israelites’] adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols.” When I “play the harlot”, God forgives, but the damage that I have done to the relationship must be repaired. This may sound very vague or ultra-spiritual, but it is not, as I have discussed in lust (it’s not what you think).
As with marriage, sin comprises all those behaviors and attitudes that threaten or impede my relationship, or reduce intimacy with God. Sin, then, is not about breaking a law, but of doing harm to a relationship. God loves me and likes everything about me so much that He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of our relationship. For that reason, He forgives. At the deepest level, I want a thriving relationship, too. For that reason, I fess up. Every night, I make plans for how I will live tomorrow in a way that will address those things that I discern are getting in the way of my relationship with God because I know that, over time, sins that are ignored will do harm to both me and God, and my relationship with Him.
The quality of my marriage is a function of how well I address sin, the things I do and the attitudes I maintain that impede intimacy with my wife. The quality of my relationship with God, likewise, is based, not on the fidelity of my obedience, per se, but on the effort I put forth to achieve and protect intimacy with Him. Though not original with Ignatius of Loyola, the Examen prayer is one of several prayer methods in the Spiritual Exercises. The Examen is really a daily, intimate chat with God for the express purpose of examining how He and I lived together during the day, and how I will live with Him tomorrow. It is not about failures and deficiencies; its focus is not on sins and disobedience; it does not spend time poking at weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It’s about us. After my wife and I have worked through a strain in our relationship, we frequently ask, “Are we ok?”, hoping that the answer is yes. When I finish the Examen, my hope is the same, that God will say, “Yes, we’re ok.”