Does God love the unbeliever? The answer to this question is obviously a resounding yes – which is no new knowledge in any sense. However, God is still using this idea to teach me more about the extents of his love. A long time ago, I lost a friend who was very close to me in my life and impacted me everyday. This didn’t happen as the result of an argument or anything malicious at all. Life just took us in different directions and no matter how hard I tried to hold on to what left we had in common, they just seemed to become uninterested and in the end, they got sick of me trying and disconnected from me for good. I’m sure many people can relate to this in one way or another. However, despite how horrible any unrequited feeling can be, the memory recently reminded me of a more pleasant memory: my first memorable encounter of God. Of course, at the time I had no concept of God, but looking back, to me – it was quite clearly him.
At the age of probably 5 or 6, it was about 5 o’clock on a warm summer’s afternoon and I was playing by myself in the garden having put a long hard day of work in at primary school. As I’m sitting there, grabbing big handfuls of grass tight in a fist and then splaying my hand open to scientifically test how much would stick and how much would fall, God showed up to the party in the form of an ant. Yes, you read that right – an ant. As I watched this ant approach me on the patio slab next to me, whatever I had been thinking about no longer mattered. My attention had in a second become consumed with fascination with this ant. [Mind-blowing that a 6yo boy’s attention span could have been changed so quickly isn’t it?] I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies AT ALL. But I’ve never had a problem with ants and what happened next is probably the reason why. I laid my hand flat on the patio and waited for the ant to crawl onto it. After some to-ing and fro-ing, as we all know ants do, it crawled onto my hand and I looked after it for what felt like hours. During that time, to this day I cannot explain what it was, and many of you will think I’m insane, but I felt pure love for this ant – who I felt loved me more than I had ever been loved before. It was inexplicable and when I was called inside for dinner, I wouldn’t come. I was an obedient child so this was strange for me. My mum had to come out and ask me why I wouldn’t come inside and my reaction was just an outburst of tears where I just explained to her that this ant was my best friend, I loved it and if I let it go I knew I would never see it again. After some gentle persuading, my mum convinced me that letting go of the ant was the most loving thing to do for it and that we would never forget each other. So, I carefully let it go and watched it to-ing and fro-ing away from me again. Now, as hilarious as this sounds now, at the time it was heartbreaking and my mum will testify to this day – there was something different, something special about that ant and the connection I seemed to have with it. Personally, I am convinced it was at least a physical symbol of God’s presence – if not, God incarnate. Why? Because the only love I can compare to the memory of that ant is the love I feel when I pour out my heart in worship. Funny how God can reveal himself in something so small and humble, isn’t it. Wait… I’ve heard that somewhere before?
Today, I was feeling particularly low about the memory of the friend I’d lost. It was a sunny day, so I decided to go on a walk with my headphones in, listening to some worship to change my mood. About 5 minutes into this walk, I heard God nudge me and say ‘How do you expect to hear me when you need it most, if you block out the world with music – even if it is singing my praises? Come, take out your headphones, sit on that bench and just -be with me- for a while.’. So I did just that. I began thinking about all I was upset about again, only this time being conscious that God was present (as he always is, but we forget). Beneath me, I saw these ants (giving me that memory) and suddenly was completely aware of God’s presence (not as an ant by the way, I mean his presence in the moment this time). I asked God there and then why I was still suffering and then a thought entered my head. As I mentioned in a previous post (#2 – Listening to the Ear of Wheat) from a book I was reading, storms in life have voices to listen and learn from. So I followed that question up with another: ‘What do I still need to learn from my suffering?’. God said ‘Nobody loves you as much as I love you. Nobody ever has. Nobody ever will.’ and in an instant, a wave of peace washed through my body.
This is a lovely thing to hear in-and-of itself but when you unpack it, it becomes extraordinary. Firstly, ‘Nobody loves you as much as I love you’ implies that he loves me more than even my own family! The CREATOR of all things loves me. The creator OF ALL THINGS loves me. The creator of all things LOVES me. The creator of all things loves ME. The more you read that sentence, the more you’re astounded. Romans 8:31 says ‘If our God is for us, who can be against us?’ which brings me to my second revelation. Secondly, ‘Nobody ever has [loved me as much as He does]’ implies that even when I’ve felt at my most loved in all the world – by anyone -, He loves me EVEN MORE! My most loving experience cannot compare to the personal love God has for me. I could drop the mic now but I have one more point that might just be the most important thing to take away. Thirdly, ‘Nobody ever will [love me as much as He does]’ implies that even my own wife and children one day won’t be able to reach the heights of love for me that God has; and if they can’t, a stranger definitely won’t. This has ground-breaking implications. As followers of Christ, we are called to replicate the love we have been shown. We fail on a daily basis but this should never stop us from trying. We should also recognise that other people fail on a daily basis, and not everyone we encounter are of the same belief system. Therefore, we cannot expect anyone at all to be able to love us the way God loves us.
Jesus loved with no expectation of receiving the same love in return. In fact, Jesus went one step further and loved KNOWING that he would receive HATE in return. The reason this calmed me so much is that it means if we accept God’s eternal love for us, it no longer matters how the world treats us. No one is God apart from God – so don’t expect them to be. Humans fail. Humans let-down. When someone we love fails to, or doesn’t show the same love back, it should not stop us from loving them. I think this is partly what forgiveness is? When we go out and love, we should do it unconditionally, with the knowledge that it could all be thrown straight back in our face. But it doesn’t matter. Because nobody loves us as much as God loves us. Nobody ever has. Nobody. Ever. Will.