How can I love a little guy so much who just yesterday I wanted to send to 6 year old reform school? I just got all choked up and teary as he was waving continuously to me with his gloved hands, a huge smile from under the brim of his big winter hat, saying over and over in the sweetest tiny boy voice, “Bye mommy! I love you! Bye! Bye! I love you Mommy!” His little head barely seeing out of my parents’ car window, which he had rolled down to keep in communication with me until they had turned the corner, he headed off to Ellie’s soccer game and then to meet Terrell’s parents for a spend the night. He is this collision of juvenile delinquent and perfect, cuddly angel baby. In one moment I want to envelope him in big hugs and smother him with kisses and never let him go and in another moment I’m ready to send him to obedience school like the place we’re sending our dog, “Learn for Life” where they are boarded and trained for two weeks to be changed forever. Do they have one of those for kids? And it is so very clear that his story is my story and is the dynamic, messy and beautiful story of God’s children in all of history. My counseling professor, as I may have mentioned before, told me in a clinic day, “There is part of me that wants to hug you and part of me that wants to punch you…there is something about you that is totally engaging and then there is something about you that just totally exhausts me.” Adam, God’s image and enemy. Israel, God’s beloved and betrayer. Jesus, in whom both met and the latter (enemy and betrayer) was put to death so the former (image and beloved) would live forever. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Heb. 10:14 I am in Him, identified by the person and work of Jesus, already and forever. But the sin nature in me is being removed and I am being made to look more like Him and less like my rebellious self gradually, over time. Being God’s beloved means that because of His amazing grace, His tears of a cherishing and adoring love are evoked toward me as mine were this morning towards Chad. But unlike me, His love doesn’t ebb and flow based upon the adorable qualities of the object of His affection. His love is perfect, protecting, understanding, compassionate and full of mercy and forgiveness when I am that kid in need of a Learn for Life boarding school just as much as in the moments when I seem more snuggly. He does not withhold His love from His people, no matter how unfaithful, hateful and adulterous they are. I think it is because He knows that even their faithfulness and love comes from Him and He understands the powerful nature of sin better than we do. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7: 15-25
I get so mad when Chad does these outlandish things (like growling at a 1 year old friend because he, as a 6 year old boy didn’t want her to play with her own toy that he wanted in that moment) because such behavior seems shocking to me and disappointing. My response then is something like, “What in the world was that!? You cannot do that! Do not ever do that again!” OK mom, done. But when I growl at my own children, or internally at someone in traffic or on the radio, God answers those very same questions with what is said about me in all of redemptive history: that was sin, you will continue to obey sin first unless I change your heart, and that heart change is a process that will be complete one day but is not yet. While Jesus declared “It is finished!” about the final outcome of things, God never screams at me, “I’m done!” meaning that He quits. Unlike the way I respond to my children and often other people in general, His behavior and attitude toward me is never based upon my behavior or attitude toward him. His cherishing of me is always based on His perfect love and the glorified version of me that will be finalized one day. What might it look like for me to start loving my little boy, and disciplining him, with a heart that sees him as he one day will finally be? What would happen to my own heart if I was less startled by his sin and more confident in the righteousness of Jesus at work on his behalf? What if compassion for the struggle we all share in doing what we do not want to do and not doing the good we wish we would do replaced condemnation? What would it be like, if in response to this reality, I began to love him in the heat of his worst behavior as ferociously as I felt it this morning when we were saying goodbye? While I was/am yet a sinner, Jesus lived and died for me. I love only because He first loved me, when I was His enemy with arms crossed and a hateful scowl covered my face. He pursues me with the same heartbreaking love that made me want to chase Chad’s car down the road and bring him back home. But God doesn’t wait until the mornings I am at my cutest to feel and act this way. Would He make me one who loves as consistently and lavishly and unreasonably as He does! See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! 1 John 3:1a