We all know the feeling of love when we’re feeling loved, but how do we see this love in our lives when those lives aren’t going so well? Normally we count things as the blessings of God largely by how much they please us and how much things go our way. But, the longer we live, the more we learn to appreciate that sometimes it is in those harder times, the times of testing that we can truly see the value and veracity of another’s love.
Joni Eareckson Tada has known the love of God and she’s seen it in times when that love was not so easy to find. She offers to us her insight from a life filled with an extra helping of pain, but also a unique perspective on God’s love. Below is an edited excerpt of her recent talk for the Colson Center’s Truth, Love, Together online event. You can hear the entire presentation by going here.
Let’s look at the amazing, astounding love of God and what it means.
First, the love of God costs something. John Piper said years ago, he said, “If you want to know if someone loves you, see if it costs him anything.”
I recall decades ago when I was in the hospital, lying in bed paralyzed, and I was so depressed. My mother would stand by the guard rail of that hospital bed for hours on end holding books up so that I could read them.
Now back then, I never bothered to consider that her shoulders must have been aching, her back must have been tired, her feet must’ve been sore. She must have been such in pain. But now looking back, oh my goodness, those sacrificial hours that my mother spent by my bedside, it displayed a far deeper love than I ever imagined.
I think that is such a sweet picture of the love of God and its greatness all because of what it costs. What it cost him, His precious Son. I mean, the death of Jesus was gruesome and terrible. It was bloody carnage on that cross.
You have to think what could God the Father possibly prize so much that it would be worth assigning His own dear Son to brutal torture? I mean, what could possibly be worth the excruciating death of the apple of His eye?
How about your salvation and mine? Because the apple of God’s eye turned brown with the stinking rot of our sin, all so that we might have salvation. Our redemption cost God more than we can possibly imagine. The measure of God’s love is clearly stated in Ephesians 5:2. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” There you have it.
Secondly, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by how little we know we deserve it. I mean, if you treat someone well and do nothing to disappoint that person, then you’ll never know the depth of that person’s love for you.
I mean, look at the older brother in Luke chapter 15, the story of the Prodigal Son. That older brother probably never knew the depth of his father’s love. And he must have been quite surprised when the father, near the close of the story in Luke, tells him, “My son, you were always with me and everything I have is yours.” The father had always loved the older brother, but that young man never had a chance to see it proved.
Now consider the prodigal who disdained and offended and despised his father. When he finally humbled himself and returned to a welcome home party complete with confetti, and a fattened calf, and a ring on his finger, and a robe on his back, and a bear hug from his dad.
Oh my goodness, then it hit him. He knew the depth of his father’s love because he knew he was so undeserving. We are like that prodigal; we are also undeserving. It is that ring on your finger and that robe on your back that proves the love of God to you and me every day.
For we know all too well how undeserving we really are. Our heinous offense against God is what makes his love for us so amazing. Romans chapter five, verse eight tells us that God proves his love for us in simply this, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Wow!
Next, you know someone loves you if it brings benefit to your life. Now that person might show his love to you with benefits like lending you money, or co-signing a loan, or helping you get through school, or finding you a job and you’d feel loved. This person cares for you.
I mean, these are wonderful benefits. But if that person rescues you from the street, from the grip of drugs, homelessness, prostitution, if that person then welcomes you right into his home, rags and all, into the guest bedroom where it’s soft pillows and comfortable quilts, you begin to see the depth of that person’s love. It’s in the same way that God breaks the grip of Satan over you. He breaks your chains, He rescued you from hell and gives you an eternity of joy and pleasure in the presence of God. Oh my goodness!
Having done that, you know a depth of love hitherto unknown on Earth. Oh, that we would just apprehend even a taste of the hell from which we have been freed, it would give us such a deeper appreciation and understanding of the love of God!
I have an illustration of that. I remember when I was going through chemotherapy for stage three cancer. I was miserable, I was sick, tired, nauseous. Then I was so tired and weary of the routine. I mean, honestly, I felt like I could not go on.
One day when my husband was driving me home from the chemotherapy clinic on the freeway, we started discussing how suffering is like a little splash over of hell. It gives us a little splash over of hell, giving us an appreciation for the actual hell from which we’ve been rescued.
Then we started wondering, well then what are splash-overs of heaven? Are they those easy, breezy, bright, wonderful days when it’s all about health and happiness and wellbeing? I said to my husband, “No, a splash over of heaven is finding Jesus in your splash over of hell.”
Because for me, cancer was hell, but that cancer gave me a broader, deeper, sweeter understanding of the love of God and all its heavenly benefits. All because I encountered Jesus. The sweetness, the poignancy, the tenderness, the loveliness, the beauty of Jesus, in my hell. Besides, when it comes to benefits, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
It’s like Paul in Ephesians chapter one prays and I would pray it for you, “That the eyes of your heart might be enlightened so that you might know the incredible benefits that accompany God’s love. The hope and the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance and his incomparably great power for those who believe.”