Class that day began so peacefully.
My university professor began the Christian Love and Marriage class with a “fun little assignment to get the creative juices flowing.”
The task was simple: Draw what you think of when you envision the love of God.
She went around and handed out crayons and blank sheets of paper for our project. We had fifteen minutes.
The first five I just sat there. How could I, who could barely draw straight lines for stickmen, draw the love of God?
As my peers joyfully scribbled away, I grabbed the black crayon. I still recall those next ten minutes of worship.
The alarm rang — time for show and tell. Each of us went around and shared our drawings, explaining why we drew what we did.
The first student unveiled her picture: a collage of lipstick red hearts, shiny bubbles, and a dozen or so smiley faces.
The second student revealed a unicorn galloping over a rainbow.
The third, a meadow with the sun shining down on laughing butterflies.
The fourth, a worn-out teddy bear.
As each explained their picture, one thing became obvious: despite my previous assumption, none was joking. All artists took their work seriously.
“God’s love makes me feel a kind of warmth inside,” explained one girl.
“Yeah, his love is magical, like the best dream you don’t want to wake up from,” added another.
“I just see a big bouquet of butterflies when I think about how God loves all of us.”
“I just feel a sense of home with God’s love, like I do when I remember my childhood teddy bear.”
I revealed my picture. My classmates were first shocked. Then confused. Then disgusted.
“That’s pretty barbaric of you,” said the first.
“I don’t think such a gory event should depict God’s love,” contributed the second.
“This is why some people don’t want to explore Christianity,” scolded the third.
In my drawing, a hill quaked. Lightning flashed. Darkness enveloped. Two dark crosses backdropped the third. My sore hand held up my nearly torn through artwork depicting my Savior dying on the cross for my sins.
“I believe this to be God’s own picture of his love,” I said.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Fact or Feeling?
Notice what happened: When prompted to draw what each envisioned as the love of God, each drew what they felt when considering the love of God.
Instead of looking without themselves, they gazed within. The objective reality of God’s love for sinners was evidenced for them — not in the crushing and torture of the Son of God two thousand years ago — but was displayed in the fluttering sensations in their own hearts. How did they know God loved them? Their feelings told them so.
And their inners did not tell them of the fierce love of God demonstrated in the Son of God being brutally executed as he bore the wrath of God on sinners’ behalf. The fallen human heart is too politically correct, too Hallmark, too civilized to mention that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to be brutally murdered for it.
When God showed his love for sinners, it was rated R.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
If handed a box of crayons and a paper, I would be surprised if many would draw what my nominally Catholic peers did. But I too often share their disposition to look within instead of without to see whether God truly loves me from day to day.
I felt like I counted my family’s interests above my own today: He loves me.
I didn’t experience much joy in the word the past few mornings: He loves me not.
I am happy because I finally shared the gospel with my coworker: He loves me.
I was incredibly angry in my heart towards my spouse last night: He loves me not.
My heart overflowed today in corporate worship: He loves me.
I didn’t feel any warm sensations of his presence during prayer: He loves me not.
This life is utterly exhausting. It may not be legalism, but feelism is just as tyrannical.
Although it is true that if we have absolutely no subjective experience of God’s love ever, we most likely are not a child of God (Romans 5:5; 8:16). But we must not confuse faith’s gaze from the cross to our feelings. The Spirit in Romans 5:5 directs our gaze to the cross in Romans 5:6.
Jesus Loves Me, This I Know
The gospel has a far better word for us than our fickle feelings:
The Father sent his only Son into the world so that I might not die in my sins (John 3:16): He loves me.
That Son emptied himself and took on human form to rescue his people (Philippians 2:6–7): He loves me.
Jesus Christ loved his Father and perfectly obeyed on my behalf, even unto death on a cross (Philippians 2:8–11): He loves me.
Jesus stepped forward in Gethsemane (John 18:4), bowing his knee to his Father’s will (Matthew 26:42): He loves me.
He was beaten as to be unrecognizable (Isaiah 52:14). He was whipped, scourged, spit on, mocked, slapped, bloodied, beaten, shamed: He loves me.
The Father crushed his own Son (Isaiah 53:10). He gave him the cup of wrath bearing my name (John 18:11). God did not spare his own Son (Romans 8:32): He loves me.
The Light of the world was snuffed; the Bread of life, broken; the King of kings, executed; the Lamb of God, slain; the Son of Man, tortured; the Son of God, forsaken; the Rock of ages, stricken; the blood of Christ, shed: Oh, how he loves me.
And the Father raised the Son from the dead. The Son reigns over the universe as my great Prophet, Priest, and King. The Spirit has made me new, is sustaining repentance and faith, and has sealed me for the day of Christ. He loves me.
Jesus, our life, is coming back. He will marry us. He will take us into his kingdom to reign with him. The time hastens on. He loves us.
As Christians, we no longer look to the drooping flower of our own love for God, peeling away petal by petal, muttering frantically to ourselves: He loves me, he loves me not.
Instead, we sing,
When Satan tempts us to despair,
Reminding of the lack within,
Upwards we look and see him there,
Who proved his love by conquering sin.
We spend our lives looking outside of ourselves to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1–2), who has proven God’s love once and for all, and will amaze his people afresh with that love forever.