We doubt the love of God because we know who we really are. But the image we paint of ourselves is far better than the dim reality. God sees through it. We see the outward appearance even of our inward parts because we hold the brush, but God sees the heart. The simple yet disturbing truth is that God loves you. We know that not just because it’s said by pastors, theologians, Sunday school teachers, and Bible study curriculum, but because it’s said by God himself through his Word, Jesus Christ.
“…for the Father himself loves you…” (John 16:27)
It’s too easy for us to misunderstand the heart of God. From the beginning, the enemy has come with his damning question, “Did God really say…?” Since Adam and Eve answered, “No,” it’s been a disaster for the rest of us. When God comes, telling of his great love, we think to ourselves, “Eh, maybe. Did he really say that, though?”
After all, you might say, isn’t Jesus saying to us even in John 16 that the Father loves us in a responsive way, like making the friend of your friend your friend? Keep reading: “The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I come from God.” There’s a reason for God’s love, and it’s not out of his own great heart. It’s a response to ours. He loves Jesus, and loves us by proxy.
But that’s nonsense. It cannot be that God loves because we first loved. The same apostle says just the opposite in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Saint Augustine comments on this verse:
This, then, was the efficient cause of our loving, that we were loved. And certainly to love God is the gift of God. He is the one who gave us the grace to love him, who loved while still unloved. Even when we displeased him, we were loved so that there might be that in us whereby we should become pleasing in his sight. For we could not love the Son unless we also loved the Father.