One of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, who has since passed away, offered these two observations about the love of God that have stuck with me. The first, “God loves you as you are, not as you should be” and the second, “It takes a profound conversion to accept that God is relentlessly and compassionate toward us just as we are – not in spite of our sin and faults but with them.” Manning calls it God’s “furious longing” for us. There is sorrow on the part of our heavenly Father when we hide from his love. I spend many years hiding from God’s love because I did could not face my actual self.
Men, it is one thing to think about God’s great love for us, and another to truly experience his love. It’s the difference between “knowing about” and “knowing of.” To experience his love we have to allow ourselves to be known. We find God in the realities of our life. As one spiritual writer observed, “The way to ascend to God is to descend into our realities.” This means allowing our actual self, the good, bad and ugly to be known by God.
Ever since Eden the human struggle has been “to escape from the grip of the spirit of fear and to be open to the embrace of love (Olthuis).” I John 4:18 gives us a profound psychological truth to help us in this struggle. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Or as the Message puts it, “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of punishment – is one not yet fully formed in love.” God desires our friendship rather than having us live in fear. “He offers his love as the one thing in the universe capable of freeing us from our fears ( Benner).”
Over the last 10 years I have been coming more out of my cave of hiding into the radiance of his love acceptance of me as “a beloved sinner.” Believe me, it is a process. I am been so used to hiding my “unwelcome parts” from God. But the more I have learned to embrace the truth of I John 4:18, the more there is grace available for me to face the reality of my shadow self, that part of me that I am ashamed of and want to hide. I am coming to realize that much of my shadow self is not evil, but rather unacceptable to the spiritual image I have created of myself. This is illusion, not reality. God can only be known in the real.
Recently in some relational tension with my wife, I had to face my hiding. The new learning that I want to pass along in this blog is this – not only was I pushing my wife away, as I insisted on staying in my “self-loathing cave” but I was allowing myself to be alienated from my true self in Christ. Instead of rising up in the strength of the Lord and facing my faults, I stayed in my cave. It was not pretty. I cowered in my self-loathing. But thanks to God’s “furious longing” for a fallen man such as myself, his love reached me in my cave, allowing me to come out into the light, so that I could meet my wife as a helpmate not as a “wounded, hurting boy.”