Monday, July 10, 2006

How Do You Know God Loves You?

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

I don't know if we can do this on a blog, but I would like to try. Hey, we can always say it didn't go well.

If there is a God, and we affirm that the nature of that God is Love, how do you know God loves you?

This is a personal question, not so much a theological one. You can all comment as Anonymous if it feels too revealing to share your personal experiences of feeling the presence of a loving God. Let me challenge you to respond from personal experience and feeling, and try if you can to avoid lengthy quotes from philosophers or precis of others' arguments. Just for fun.

Some questions.
Do we know that God loves us because we love one another so much, and are we necessarily extrapolating from that?
Are we muddling along in the night, feeling that it's *possible* that God loves us because we are able to feel and experience love ourselves, and it feels so miraculous?

If we don't believe in God, do we locate the source of love somewhere in particular in the human being, or beyond? Again, I hope you will muse from your own intuition even as you may share part of a philosophical explanation or school of thought.

For liberal Christians, what does it mean to you personally that God so loved the world that He gave his only Son for us? For me, as a Humanist Christian, it means that God gives us human brothers and sisters who are willing to teach us the ways of Love even at the cost of their own lives. God grants them the strength to live out their calling so that we may know that life can be just as precious brief and deep as it is long and full in years. It is perhaps the lowest part of my christology, and it changes frequently so don't quote me on that.

These questions come from a pastor at rest, who truly wonders who she is when she is not filling her days with the worries and plans of ministry. One of the reasons I am so assiduously protecting my vacation this year is because I am trying to grapple with the question of whether God loves me when I am not at work for others. On an intellectual level, I have faith that this is so. If someone put that question to me, i.e., "Does God love me even when I am not in active service to others," I would certainly answer in the enthusiastic affirmative and feel pain that they should even wonder such a thing.

To believe in, and perhaps even experience, God's love for me even when I am non-productive, is my spiritual practice this summer. It is my spiritual practice every summer, and this year I would like to come away with something more than several weeks of confusion and low-grade depression. I feel no shame in sharing this with you. I have to believe it is a common dysfunction among many caregivers. For all you cute, protective and pastoral types out there, don't worry about me. I'm FINE. I go through this every year. It's not as big an existential crisis as it sounds, just a constant growing edge and a genuine question.

Take a good look at that cub's face. I could look at that all day. Is that not a perfect creation? Is that not a being to cherish? Do you think Creation delights in us in that way when the first breath is breathed into us?

How do you know God loves you? Or, if that feels too personal, how do you know in your heart that God loves us? If an obviously suffering person sat next to you in church and put that question to you, how would you answer him or her, without referring him or her to a book, a counselor, a pastor, or the suicide hotline? How would you answer this question, from your heart?

Me, I'm just going to look at that lion cub for a few more hours.


Blogger Tricycle Blog said...

I guess I could answer this question in a number of ways, or at least a number of steps.

First, I know God loves us because that is what I was taught in the Universalist church where I grew up. This message was given to us every week in Sunday School, either directly or through the ambiance of nurturance, respect, and modeling of love. Up until now, I have never been given sufficient reason to cast doubt on the essential correctness of this doctrine.

Second, I know that God loves us because that's the basic definition of what God is in the first place. God, as I understood it growing up in the Universalist church, is Love. For God not to love us is as absurd as saying that the sky is something that exists under the ground or in the ocean: remove love from God and whatever you have left over, it just isn't God. In school and other places kids tried to convince me that God was something other than Love, such as Judgment, Anger, Power, Mystery, etc. I did not find their arguments convincing, nor have I found the arguments of their adult counterparts convincing. If others wish to worship a God who is not all-loving, that is their right; but, that God is not God as I understand God, and I have no interest in worshipping that other God, whom I take to be a logical impossibility.

Third, I know that God loves us because I experience that love in my daily life. My basic religious practice is reflecting on the forces that benevolently sustain my life and attempting to acknowledge them in gratitude and humility. I am daily moved by this great love beyond myself and do my best to return it by compassionate action toward others, who are loved as I am by God. My reasoning here is that God needs nothing from me (God is God, after all), and that therefore the appropriate way to please God is to be kind toward those whom God also loves.

So, it is indoctrination, logic, and intuition. I can't really separate these three all that well, to be honest. Sometimes my life is good and sometimes it is bad, but every day I feel that I am loved unconditionally despite my flaws, and that others share in this love as well. I cannot imagine that this love is limited to me or a handful of others, that would make it something other than true love. And the name I was given for this Love is God: that's what the term means. God is Love.

Jeff Wilson

Blogger Jess said...

I have a hard time with the image of God as actively loving individual me, because I can't wrap my head around a personal God. My image of God is the force of Love in all of Creation, that flows in us and through us but is not necessarily directed AT us - that Love is magnified as we pass it on and grow in it, strengthening our individual portion of the web of Life.

And passing it on can be as small as a smile for a stranger on the street, or as great as dedicating one's life to serving other people.

I experience this Love every day in the faces of my children, my husband, and the network of my family and friends. I do my best to pass it on through music, service, kindness, and getting out of my own head as much as I am able. I am not good at extroverted Love, so I do what small things I can instead of striving for grand gestures.

I know that even these small things make a difference, because I can see it in the people around me and in the serendipitous happenings of my life, happenings that I can't quite believe that I deserve, down in the darkest parts of me.

Blogger Aola said...

I could answer that question a 100 different ways but the one thing I always go back to is the moment in time when I hit bottom, rock bottom and called out to God to change my life or let me die.
He/She chose life for me and I have never been the same since.

I love your question about whether or not God still loves you if your minstering or on vacation.... I've had those same thoughts and my conclusion was that not only nothing I could "do" would make God love me more but also that nothing I did could make him love me less.

Blogger anonymity is nice said...

But what is love?

If I had an answer to that question, maybe then I'd be able to say if, and how, God loves me.

Blogger Jamie Goodwin said...

Maybe it is because I am very worship-centric but I experience faith in those places were I connect with others, or things outside of myself.

I know God loves me because I feel it in the sunlght, or see it in a beautiful sunset. I hear it in silence and in the cry of the hawk.

I know God loves me because when I am most moved I feel within something greater and more powerful than "myself".

I know that God loves me because I see us all, and all the world, as a part of a whole God and as such my own love for others, and our world, aslo includes myself.

I don't believe that God cares what we do, not in the sense of wether one is a minister, or doctor, or line worker. And I don't believe that God considers work, play, or rest more important than another. It is all part of life, all essential parts of life.

God and Love hold no boundries.

Blogger Joel Monka said...

Peacebang, I do have a personal answer for you, but I posted it on my blog rather than as a comment here because it runs some 1,000 words.

BTW- have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy your blog? You're one of the first I check every time I log on.

Blogger fausto said...

I know God loves me from many different clues but especially because of the many gifts he has given me that I have done nothing to deserve. Among the most precious of these is the gift of two wonderful children conceived against the strong probabilities of Nature.

I know that God loves me because of the warmth that appears in my heart every time I give again of what I have been given.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

I don't feel God's love any more than I feel the effects of Gravity. (Actually, I'm not sure that God loves me in a greater sense than gravity does.)

But I can look at the world and know both the forces of Gravity and the forces of God are functioning.


Blogger powderblue said...

If I believe in God, which I usually do, I see God's love in the loving eyes and faces of other beings, like my partner's on a sunny day.

Other times I believe I'm just biologically and impersonally programmed to respond to certain stimuli, including ones that evoke a nurturing or love response. That's not a comforting thought for me, but I do tend to catch up on my sleep on the days I have it.

Blogger Rev. Sean said...

I too posted on my blog. Thanks for asking, PB.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

These are wonderful, and look how different!
Holy cow. It's lightening real bad so I can't read Sean's right now, but you should all go to Joel Monka's and read his sweet and fine response there, too.

Blogger UUpdater said...

I hesitated to post this response, because it's not an affirmative response. I hope it's ok.

When I think about things based on the assumption God exists I start to feel like I imagine the student in Beijing's Tiananmen Square felt standing in front of a tank. I will be standing up for my ideals, consequences be damned. I don't feel love.

I am a part of a liberal religion because it's the way I think things should be, but that doesn't mean I believe it. I can say that if what I was preached in the mainstream is true, then it's not something I can uphold. But belief is not so simply refuted. Any arguments, to the contrary of what I believed simply lead to greater doubt, not belief. If there is a God then it does not change on my whim, or my choice. So what then of my change of mind, how can I be so sure I am right now and was wrong then? I will lead my life with integrity, and hope that's good enough.

I will hope that I am loved, or at least accepted, but I certainly don't feel it.

Blogger neolib said...

I believe that one can only KNOW through direct experience. Self delusion can be surprisingly difficult to completely discern and irradiate. Meaning is ascribed not found. I find it difficult to believe a modern individual would come to knowledge based on direct experience of the existence of a being that has no humanly measurable attributes. I have direct experience of an internal experience I call love, but I have been fooled and terribly heartbroken when I deluded myself into falsely believing that I was loved; even so I highly recommend the experience of believing you are loved if for no other reason than growth of character.

Blogger Christine Robinson said...

I know God loves me because I have experienced, on a few occasions, something that I can't explain any other way. All I can say is, "I just know." Before that it was hints and guesses, to quote T.S.Elliot, and after that, hints follwed by guesses, but the hints and guesses are grounded in a new way, in, I believe, the only way they can finally be grounded.

Blogger Kermit's Daughter said...

At the low point of my life in 1979 I had an experience that I can only describe as an experience of God's love. It was sudden. It took me out of myself. I was suffused with the feeling of being accepted just as I am and truly welcomed and loved. Thousands of writers have described it. If I were Christian I suppose I would say I was born again. As a UU it grounded me in a theism that was no longer an intellectual ideal but a reality strongly experienced. Since then,I have certainly felt aspects of that love and grace in the daily world, in the beauty of nature and in the human love that is a part of my life, but never again like that all encompassing moment. And as so many have said: it was a moment that changed nothing and changed everything.

Blogger Mama G said...

For liberal Christians, what does it mean to you personally that God so loved the world that He gave his only Son for us? For me, as a Humanist Christian, it means that God gives us human brothers and sisters who are willing to teach us the ways of Love even at the cost of their own lives. God grants them the strength to live out their calling so that we may know that life can be just as precious brief and deep as it is long and full in years.

PB, I love this explanation that you give and I would have to say that is pretty much the way I've come to feel about Jesus representing God's love on earth. By showing that he was going to have the strength to stand by what he taught despite what was done to him, he saved us by showing us how we too can count on love to always guide us.

As for myself, I know that God loves me because s/he never gave up on me for the first 36 years of my life when I didn't believe s/he existed. S/he just sat loyally by guiding me until finally one day as I was driving home from Old Navy and thinking about the existence of God and everything I'd heard about religion, I just felt as if the sky opened up, the sun shone brighter, and everything around me was silent. From that point on I never doubted that God loved me and I began to realize that God loves everyone.

I don't always tell people that story because I realize it does sound kind of hippy dippy. But it is true and one of the most meaningful moments of my life (so far). ;-)

Blogger ogre said...

"Know" as in my experiential reason for visceral knowledge?

Whatever it is that I end up willing to attach the numinous tag labeled "God" to...

I've had a couple mystical experiences. Inexplicable moments that persuade me--unequivocally--that there's a lot more "out there" than we can envision and grasp.

One of them was in a small Pagan worship setting. I heard--and I'm not talking "heard" as in thought-voices in my head--a voice. Nothing profound except in the way that it's clearly profound... "Know that I'm always with you.

Given my perspectives on the nature of the divine (assuming that there is...) I can only say I was pretty stunned. I even looked to find the speaker....

On the other hand, it fits with my perspective that the divine is everywhere, in everything. The statement is thus a tautology, but still meaningful (stop thinking it and just know it).

Anyonething willing to be with me all the timemust love me, because...

There've also been a couple moments where for no reason, I was suddenly just intensely aware of the earth and everything around me being vibrantly alive and interconnected in a way that I can only describe as evoking a very, very deep joy.

Anonymous rastc said...

Cute,redundant and for the most part trite. I sit worriedly beside you, afraid in the dark, suffering in wonderment of the love that YOU hold. Sedentary sunset or blazing sunrises, does He love ME while I sit here, worried and alone?

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Cute, redundant and trite? Who? What?

Do you realize how obnoxious that kind of comment is?
Do you understand the concept of a BLOG, which is to jot down ephemera in between everything else we do all day in order to share it with the world? In order to create community?

This isn't a sermon, it's not an article, it's not a conference paper. These entries take mere minutes to write, they're not edited, and if you don't like the writing, go somewhere else.

I asked about how you experience God's love, not for your great literary critique of my, or anyone else here's, writing.

Not to mention that I couldn't follow the basic idea of your own muddled, incoherent remark.


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