It always seemed to me, before I became a Christian, that it was an absurd notion that the God of all creation would be concerned with me. I could see how there might be a God, but a God who cared for individuals who are just such a small part of the real estate of the universe? Not likely. And the same thing for all of mankind. A caring loving God was beyond conception. And when I looked at all the evil mischance in the history of mankind, I did not see the beauty that I thought would come with a beauteous Creator; on the contrary, what I understood of mankind seemed only to confirm my doubts.
But that is exactly what I found in my encounter with God—a God who intensely, personally loves me. Precious in the sight of all believers is that time when they know, specially, for the first time, that God indeed loves them for themselves. Rather than saying I found God, I should be pointing out that God found me, and in the brief moment before I was found, there were some poignant seconds where God seemed to reveal hundreds of times when His Spirit had been in my life, convicting me of his love and his truth. I cannot speak for others except by observation, but salvation to me was an intensely personal experience. It was an experience where all at once God seemed to flood my soul with an awareness of the multitude of times he had intervened in my life. I, who had tried my best to hold truth sacred to my soul, found that there was a Truth whom I had blinded myself to.
It was such a wrenching experience that I fell on my face and simply wept in awe at my sudden awareness of him, who had been there all along, in his deep mercy, and in his vast love, desiring that I should turn from my ways and acknowledge him. Unabashedly this is what I did for hours, turning to him, I thought, because I had at last found Truth to be irresistibly attractive. It was not at that point that I had any Christian nomenclature correct. I knew I had been wrong all those years of not following him—but I had not yet realized it was termed sin. I knew that I had found meaningful life in him, but I knew not about eternal life. All that was to be found out as I realized that God did indeed leave a handbook for man to find out about him. That awareness was soon to follow, as I hungrily sought his direction in the Bible.
But the point I would make now, is that the non-believer should be approached with the good news. I lament and cringe a bit when I hear my well-meaning friends tell someone they need to repent of their sins and be saved. Paul, in his message at Mars Hill, hones the gospel carefully, speaking of the unknown god, and thus brings the gospel in a highly tuned manner to the Greeks that needed to hear it. What I do not read in Paul’s message is his disdainment of the pagan Greeks, though surely his flesh cringed when he saw their many gods and many follies. He gave them the simple message, that God had sent his Son into the world, to die for our sins, and to be raised victoriously from that death. Hearing that message, the book of Acts tells us only a few men became followers by believing, but more wanted to hear his message again.
Had Paul not honed that message, I doubt that any would have responded with belief. I notice that the belief precedes the knowledge of sin, and the knowledge of the need to repent. We cannot stand long in the majesty of God, with all his vast glory shining upon us, without realizing our abject need of deep repentance. But repentance follows belief. It is no good telling a man to repent of his sins unless that man should find out that there is a loving God who does in fact have a plan for his life. Once I learn of the gospel—the good news that Jesus died at the plan of God for me, then and only then, do I see myself through God’s eyes, and repentance follows at once. Jesus, I think, had something to say about that when he referred to the man forgiven by another of a small debt, and then compared that to a man forgiven of a large debt. To get a man to repent of his sin when he is thinking only of that time he got drunk and did something reprehensible, is not that difficult, but neither does the man have a coherent idea of his need. He is still thinking himself to be basically a good fellow, a righteous man, who will graciously accept the forgiveness of God, and thus only understanding a smidgeon of his grace.
But it is not that way at all! We are forgiven a large debt, not just a few petty actions, and it is only then we begin to understand that Jesus really meant it when he said that he is not come to call the righteous, but rather the sinner to repentance. The righteous man will never understand the grace of his forgiveness; the sinner will never quite get over the immeasurable grace of forgiveness. The righteous man is blinded by his own deeds; the sinner is quite aware of his past and of what justice would bring, and receives mercy with thankfulness.
It is rather like a man who discovers that he has rather a deep cut on his finger, and goes to the hospital to get it stitched. However, upon arriving at the hospital, the technicians determine the man is in the middle of a heart attack, and rush him to emergency. But no, it is even a bit worse than that, for the same man gets to emergency, and the doctors find his heart is stopped, and that, if they do not immediately intervene that patient will die. If you want to love God a lot, you need to abolish the idea of the cut finger altogether, and concentrate on the heart that the Great Doctor has just got beating again. It is only then that you might begin to love much, just as you also are much loved.
What is man that you are mindful of him, cries the Psalmest. I do not pretend to understand why the Creator would even begin to care the least bit about me; but I know he does. I do not pretend to understand why he not only cares, but he cares the most he possibly could. All of his vast heavenly energies were spent in giving his Son on the cross. Having spent his all, he could spend no more. He had given everything to redeem what I could call worthless humanity.
But that is only the beginning of the story. The Son gave his all, that he might impart the Spirit, who is busy giving of himself to fill every believer. Neither shall any man pluck them out of my Father’s hand, declares Jesus. Every believer has the earnest expectation of being remembered, and loved, for all of eternity, and all of that is secure by the Spirit sealing us permanently in the body of the church. Paul says that no one and nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
Does Jesus love you? Yes, and a thousand times yes. Broken and crumpled as an old dollar bill we may be, but he still finds something in us to love, for he is able to see beyond that brokenness toward what he intends to make of us. “I am master of my fate,” proclaims the proud man. Yet he does not see that he cannot number his days, neither can he make one hair black or white. His wrinkles come in, his teeth go out, and time will bend him ever downward. His brokenness grows as he fashions his Ebenezer-like chains, a link at a time. He does not see or perceive that Jesus would melt all those links away, if he would only believe. And that is the real question: will you not begin to love the One who loves you so much? A journey of a thousand steps, but it begins with the one step of belief. “He that comes to me I will not cast out.”