Of course that test is not foolproof, but I think there may be something in it. AW Tozer suggested a similar experience with regard to God. He said, ‘What comes to our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Were we able to extract from anyone a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that person.’ In other words, what we think about God will affect what we believe about how he views us ? and that will determine the kind of relationship we have with him.
Imagine two computers. They appear identical, but before they leave the factory they have different software installed. The effect is dramatic: the minute those ‘identical’ computers are turned on they behave differently. A certain keystroke produces a different response; on one you can edit films, on the other you can work on spreadsheets.
Human beings are somewhat similar, except that in us the ‘software’ is written by genes, teachers, friends and, perhaps most of all, parents. Some people call it our ‘narrative’. And, of course, one of the strongest parts of that narrative, as Tozer suggests, is how we view God. For some of us, as soon as we wake up we hear, ‘God is disappointed in you. You must spend today proving that you can please him.’
It’s not hard to see why this narrative runs so easily in our spiritual lives: it is hardwired into every part of our human experience. We have learned from childhood that teachers praise us when we get questions right, sports coaches pick us for their teams if we are faster or stronger than our peers, and we notice that even our parents seem to love us more when we are good.
When I was a child they taught me a song in Sunday school:
Echo, Echo, Echo,
Echo is my name,
I go wherever children go,
and always say the same.
Echo, Echo, Echo,
remember I am here,
And never say a word,
you don’t want God to hear.
I grew up with this character called Echo. He lurked around all children, and the second we said something naughty he reported it straight to God. I knew that made God really cross. My Sunday school teacher was right to tell me that God didn’t want me to sin, but perhaps she missed helping me understand the really big story about God in the Bible: the fact that he loves me.
I believe that for many Christians the simple truth that God loves them is a total surprise. Oh, it is not a surprise intellectually. They know in their minds that God loves them ? they can recite the verses to prove it. No, the surprise is in their hearts.
But this shouldn’t be a shock to our hearts. The Bible is the story of God’s love affair with human beings. It is true that it talks a lot about sin ? but that is because God hates what sin does to those he loves.
And God’s love is better, bigger and more enduring than any love we have ever experienced. ‘The steadfast love of God’ is mentioned 147 times in the book of Psalms, and Jesus warned his disciples about thinking that God loved less than human parents: ‘Which of you if your son asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?’ (Luke 11:11-12). God is not in heaven to catch you out, but to love you.
God is not in heaven to catch you out, but to love you
I am ashamed to tell you that it has taken me almost all my adult life to begin to understand the truth that God loves me. Most mornings I go into a quiet room and pray. I have a list of people to pray for; it’s long and, to be honest, sometimes I feel as if I’m just ploughing through it. Nevertheless, when I have finished the list, I have a sense of achievement ? the feeling that I have, perhaps, pleased God. But God challenged me about this the other day when my grandson ran towards me. When I saw him I was filled with joy. I swept him up into my arms and hugged him. And it was then that I felt God say to me: ‘Rob, don’t get too screwed up about that list. Even if you miss a few names out some days, remember that I know the list too. What brings me delight is to see you on your knees in prayer. I love it when you run to me like that.’
If we can grasp this, it will change everything ? our relationship with God and with others, and how we view ourselves. So before you go to bed tonight ask God to gently wake you tomorrow morning with a narrative running in your brain that truly reflects how he feels about you.
He loves you.
There is nothing to prove.