Yep, It’s All About Me

From Bob Hyatt’s review of The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning:

It’s just that in the drive to reduce everything down to “God loves you!” I can’t help but feel some important nuances are lost…Is God jealous for His own glory at all? Or is He simply all about ME?

I’ve been chewing on this since I read it. Admittedly I fall in the category of those who believe that the more we know God’s love for us, the better. Of course I don’t want to be guilty of being narcissistic or disrespectful in a way that diminishes God’s glory.

God’s purpose in creation was to include mankind in His fellowship. Why this extreme gesture of generosity, love, and inclusion extended to us? I don’t know.

Although it seems contradictory, the more I dwell in the Father’s love for me, the greater my capacity to respond to His love in worship and loving others. In fact, it is only His love in me that can fuel this response. I would suggest that an individual’s revelation of His love is the proper acknowledgment and reflection of His glory.

The world is desperate to know, yet reluctant to really believe the truth that God loves them. They don’t need to be convinced of their alienation, guilt, or sin. In fact, these very things are often the barrier to accepting the love the Father has for them.

If the “just love” message is trivialized, perhaps we actually tarnish His glory. God’s glory isn’t the image of an abstract and distant deity. His glory is the essence of the fullness of His love, His very being. I don’t believe there can be a genuine expression of God’s glory that doesn’t resound with His extravagant love for mankind.

So what are the nuances that are lost if the message is reduced to “God loves you”?

I would suggest that whatever they are, they ultimately point back to God’s love for ME (and you).

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27 thoughts on “Yep, It’s All About Me

  1. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

    Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

    Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves…

    …If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

    What aspect of Jesus’ character would be selected for this perfect representation of the Father? Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? Jesus cleansing the Temple? Jesus cursing the fig tree? Or John’s Revelation that left him as though dead at His feet?

    Seems God goes out of His way to show incredible love, but to remain in it, one must be obedient to commands & behavior modeled by Jesus Himself. Sacrificial love. Servant heart. Unity amongst the brethren. Good works displayed before the world. Much is required I think to remain in the love of God. And all these requirements depend on death to self. Deferring to others. Thinking of others before oneself. There is no room for a me centered gospel or a me centered terminus of God’s love. If it is God’s love we are to emulate, it must first be expressed outwardly to undeserving people much like ourselves…

    And God’s glory? I am not convinced God is jealous for the innate qualities/attributes that He possesses in absolute perfection. Nothing or no one can diminish/dilute them. His glory, if displayed, would be utterly impossible to ignore. So, if it is His glory kept veiled that He is jealous of, we cannot be blamed for being ignorant of such. If His glory is in the good works prepared in advance for us to do, that is the litmus test of being a disciple and/or pursuing kingdom priorities. And God loves this glory to be displayed in His saints just like it was in Jesus. He is interested in fruit; good fruit; abundant fruit; fruit that lasts. And He expects a harvest from each of us. Remaining in His love the only way to keep the fruit being produced. And all fruit meant to attract/feed others, not ourselves…

    1. Joseph,
      Maybe semantics, but I don’t believe we can behave our way into or out of the love of God. However, I agree that to experience the transforming work of His love, we abide in it.

      I agree that God is not focused on His own glory. In fact, He demonstrates a focus on others that is self-sacrificial and always pouring out.

      1. Maybe it is not simply a matter of semantics. Love, as we understand it, cannot be static. It must be active. Demonstrative. Love does not exist in a vacuum. If indeed God is love, then it had to be expressed to the nth degree:

        But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

        This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

        Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

        Certainly God loves us because He has shown it. And yet we cannot say we love God without a reciprocal demonstration that mirrors His. Going through the motions cannot equate with love. Other posters already addressed the issue with hypocrisy & doing religious acts for men’s approval. That is not the love of God either. But all love is action, not words.

        Now we may argue about the concept of God’s external love vs. internal as the Apostle John indicates in the scripture cited above. God loving the entire ‘cosmos’ (creation) is not of any individual benefit unless it is humbly acknowledged & reciprocated. God gave the supreme example that is not up for discussion. It simply has been elevated to the highest height of agape & is thee standard all other loves will be measured against. If there is no action on our part, there is no recognition by God that we are His child. Does He love the sinner? Of course He does & has shown it sacrificially. Does that require a response (action) from us? Of course it does. That is the point I was trying to make.

        Now it is true that the depth of God’s love that He has ‘lavished’ upon us can always be plumbed deeper as we ponder its great scope. Manning does that in his writings. A love so vast/grand that it would easily overwhelm us. But His love is always expressed as a relational/reciprocal/invitational demonstration, not a static, impersonal benevolence…

  2. Amen to what Joseph said. I might only add that we, as a culture, seem to have a very difficult time grasping the reality of (agape) love. The object of God’s love isn’t necessarily deserving of His affection. His love eminates from Himself. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 profoundly proves this. Thus, in understanding this kind of love, then I too can love others. It’s not an emotion or a ‘feeling’, it is a decision. When I give such love, there is no obligation for the object of my love to respond in kind. Usually thouigh, if there is a response, the response eventually becomes emotional and affectionate. Trust is established. A relationship develops. The first attribute in the 1 Corinthians 13 definition is patience. God is patiently loving mankind (ME), knowing there is no obligation for me to respond in kind (love does not insist on its own way). Yet, when I do, there is an element of trust and our relationship deepens. His Spirit speaks mysteries to my spirit. Emotions engage, and I can sometimes be so overwhelmed by His love and goodness that I literally weep for joy. Those are very intimate moments.

    I wonder, does God ever weep for joy in our relationship? Or is He too glorious for that?

  3. Is it ironic that Bob Hyatt would be making that statement, while Michael Spencer is pondering how being too God centered, or making it all about holiness, diminishes the human experience. http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/on-being-too-god-centered

    For my own part, I’ve come to believe that God needs nothing from us. He doesn’t need us to ‘give him glory’, as if he is deficient in some way. It is all the more humbling to realize that God loves us even though we have really nothing to give back to him. Any doctrine that states we were created in order to add to God something he lacks, I believe is wholly deficient.

  4. I remember hearing a sermon once on a Podcast that explained God being almighty in a way we don’t often think of. God was so incredibly powerful that he had the strength and power to sacrifice himself on a cross to forgive the very people who were killing him and offer them the chance to return to a right relationship with him. Now that, that’s true power.

    This made me think of that. I don’t think that in expanding on how God loves us loses anything from him if done in the proper light. If anything it shows just how awesome he really is, that he’s so incredible that he has the strength to love the human race in spite of everything we’ve done to each other and done to him.

  5. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory is a very good answer to this. Though I am sure many of your readers have read it, and you as well, I suggest it again.
    Jesus said that He has received the glory His Father gave unto them so that His Father may be gloried and now He gives it us. He now calls us friends. Friends! Can you imagine? But I think it very true, when we are finally joined with the Father in Heaven, we will be rid of any selfishness and realize it is all about Oneness in Him.
    Its not that its about His glory His love as opposed to ours, it is all His, He just shares it in ways that we cannot all understand.

      1. Thanks, James, for mentioning that particular sermon of CS Lewis. I had not known of it, but found it readily available online. Great stuff!

  6. I agree, Grace.

    I don’t think we do stuff so that we can remain in His love (that seems to mean that we are earning it). Rather, I think it’s the other way around.

    Jesus said He could do “nothing apart from the Father” and if that’s true of Jesus, I think it’s true for us too. I don’t think Jesus was perfect in order that he could remain in God’s love. Instead, the vice-versa is true. We abide in His love – as we are connected relationally to Him… and *this* is what fuels our outward-focused love.

    I’ve heard someone say that God is more interested in affection than obedience. (The parable of the prodigal’s son is probably a pretty good indication of that). If we love others because we’re obeying and “God told me to do this, so I better do it,” that doesn’t seem like genuine affectionate love. And it seems counter to all the Jesus did and who He was. And He really is the best picture of the love of the Father we have!

    1. By the way, I didn’t always think this way. My thinking used to be more in line with Bob’s.

      And I used to think that we had a “humanistic” gospel as long as we focused solely on how God loves us. But my thinking has changed as I’ve walked this journey with Him. I haven’t read anything by Manning, but have The Furious Longing on hold at the library. I look forward to it!

  7. God’s glory is us. His glory is in what he made, in the relationships he forms, in the resurrection he brings, in the restoration he causes.

    God so loved the world he sent his only son, after all. What he loves, we should honor as being a reflection of his glory, and honor what he honors, celebrating with him his work, his glory, his fellowship with him and with each other, all as a single reality. We glory with him that he glories with us, and we shall glory with all each other for eternity.

  8. I did a teensy little word search on God’s glory — sharing HIs glory, and giving His glory to another. What I discovered is that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory, a glory so overwhelming that the heavenly beings who worship HIm can only exclaim “Holy, holy” over and over again.

    Here’s what God said about His own glory: “For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it,for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Yet that is exactly what people love to do, according to the Bible, the love to give God’s glory to each other — even Jesus talks about in the Gospel of John: ” How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”

    Yet we can behold God’s glory and be transformed by it, now that our Lord has risen from the dead and filled us with His recreative life: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

    And in this way, if we share in the whole of Jesus’ life, the suffering and the love, we will share in HIs glory. This is exactly what He wants!! John 17 is the only place in all four gospels where Jesus actually makes an “I want” statement. It’s pretty astounding what He asks for: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

    I think there’s more to “glory” than love. And there is definitely an over-emphasis on “me” in our current culture which affects every part of us including our lives of faith.

    As an aside about love not being an emotion, but an action word only….if that’s true, that means God does not necessarily have affection for every one of us. For some of us He may very well not “feel” anything at all, but He’s being loving towards us because that’s the righteous thing. Others of us perhaps He actually dislikes (we always knew it, we’re just too yucky to have affection for, we knew all along that God was just being nice and charitable).

    I had my mind changed — forceably — when I stumbled over this in 1 Peter 1:22 “Since by your obedience to the Truth through the Holy Spirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, see that you love one another fervently from a pure heart.”

    At first I couldn’t believe this was in the Bible. Talk about impossible!! Actually have affection for every single believer?! There were believers in my church at that time that I couldn’t stand! But I was always nice to them. Apparently, this is not enough for God.

    The next verse in that passage reminds the reader that we’ve been born again from God’s imperishable seed, so we’re to be like Him now. The inference is clear. He loves every one of His own as fervently and passionately as a bridegroom loves his bride during their honeymoon (Psalm 19).

    So the bar’s pretty high. We’re to love from the heart. That’s agape.

    1. Do you believe Jesus ‘affectionatley’ loved the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law (i.e. Matthew 23)? Do you think He ‘affectionately’ loves those who cause others to sin (i.e. Matthew 18:5-7)?

      I DO believed Jesus loves these, but I’m not convinced that we are to extend affection (“a fond or tender feeling” – Webster’s) to everyone. I can CHOOSE to love (1 Cor. 13 agape), but I cannot choose my feelings. To pretend that I have a fondness for someone whose behavior repulses me (feelings) gets into hypocracy. There’s enough of that in Christ’s church.

  9. I sometimes struggle with the “God loves you!” message. For people who struggle with pain, suffering and really horrible living circumstances the message comes across as more of a cliché then a message.

    Maybe a “let me show you how much God loves you” message might come across a bit better. James puts it this way:

    “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

    IMO love is an action verb not just a noun.

    1. I agree Bob. Sometimes we equate “God loves you”, with “God wants you to be happy”. Temporal things make us temporaily happy, but His eternal love produces sustaining joy (even when I am sometimes unhappy). The ultimate evidence of God’s love is not to be sought in the temporal things that make people happy, but rather in the passion of His bloody cross. God loved His creation so much that He gave His only begotten Son in order that He could freely offer humanity (ME) intimacy of life beyond everything that is merely temporal. Upon receiving this gift, He gave me the imperative to extend His love to others (“take up YOUR cross daily, and follow me”). Taking up my cross is to ‘die’ to self (even at the cost of happiness) and serve others. It is in doing so that I discover joy, something profoundly greater than happiness.

  10. Grace,

    The questions in the comments are precisely why I have come to focus so much on cHesed — faithful covenant-keeping — as God’s primary “action verb”, because it includes all the concepts of agape-love-submission as well as charis-grace-service and eleos-mercy-initiating good.

    The “love” of God is multifaceted and the Hebrew concept of covenant and covenant-keeping is really, IMO, the best “lenses” through which to see (purple, of course ;^) ).

  11. For me one way to move beyond the “just me” aspect of God’s love is to remember that His redemption will be of all creation. Yes, humans are an important, most important single, aspect of His creation but because of His love for all of creation it will be redeemed with humans taking their intended role as stewards, under Jesus’ rule, of God’s creation. When this occurs at the fulfillment of God’s complete restored dominion over a combined heaven and earth, then God’s glory will also be perfectly reflected in creation. From that time forward our perfect love relation with God and each other will be a part of God’s glory.

    Our lives, individually and collectively, are to be showing this love and glory in the world that is not yet what it will be so that others may see what that redeemed creation will look like in its completeness.

  12. I believe that it is all about love and I believe that knowing and resting in the love of God is a struggle for us – but when we have those moments when we really get it right they are transforming, life altering, turn everything upside down moments. Real, true love is risky – people are going to get it wrong, take advantage, diminish the value, misunderstand it, take it for granted etc. – but I believe that it is the only thing that has the power to truly tranform.

  13. I meant to respond to all of the comments yesterday, but as you can see, I didn’t get very far. :)

    I will be out of town today, but before I leave, I just wanted to add that Bob is one of my favorite bloggers/pastors. I think he is balanced and wise, and I give a lot of weight to his words.

    This particular post isn’t necessarily because I disagree with Bob, but rather an exploration of the thoughts that his statement provoked in me.

    Great comments as usual. So many interesting facets to this that each of you brought out.

  14. An additional thought…

    God is about ME. But not me, as I am, the ego propelled, distracted, disoriented, bumbler. He is about me becoming who I am, the person I’m called to be who loves God and loves neighbor in bountiful celebration of life. He is about me more than I am about me, but that means pushing, shaping, guiding, encountering the me that I am so that I become the me that I really am, through his love for me.

    The Brennan Manning book confronts the sort of me that tends towards guilt, and sees God as an angry, dismissive, God demanding perfection. That’s an attitude that has the appearance of religious zeal (“Oh what a terrible worm I am!”) but not what God says or desires. He yearns for me, for all me’s in this world, making us into a profound dancing, laughing, celebrating us where we’re finally free of all the sorts of ego-driven sins–whether their represented by aggression against others or ourselves.

  15. I think the only issues with the God loves you message, as you note, point to us. We have a cultural view of what “love” is or means and it fails to compare to what God’s Love is. That is why we need to continue to receive revelation of God’s Love, just as Paul prayed for the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:16-19).

    I just wrote on the God loves you message so this is all very fresh for me.

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