There are times in my life when my own mediocrity and lack of holy desire leave me quietly wondering if God has finally given up on me. That, disappointed with my weakness, He has taken my calling and given it instead to someone who has worked harder, prayed longer, and deserves it more. It’s not something I shout about, or even admit readily to myself, but all too often I allow myself to be seduced by the voices that whisper this dark and dangerous logic into my weariness. In those moments it seems inevitable that He has finally noticed the ease with which I have neglected and trampled upon the fervent promises that came so easily in simpler days.
In a steady stream of small but piercing moments, God has been reminding me again recently that the voices are wrong. They are wrong because they are based on the presumption that somewhere along the line God looked at me, saw something of value and responded in love.
The truth is, that is not what happened.
God can’t fall out of love with me because he didn’t fall in love with me. He couldn’t start loving me because He has always loved me. That’s what Paul is telling us in the first chapter of Ephesians. Before the world came into being, God loved us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. As a friend reminded me last week: Love is not dependant on the person who is loved but on the character of the lover. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “He loved us not because we are loveable, but because He is love.” Gradually, but insistently, the truth of this statement has been driving out the fog that clouds my understanding of who I am before God.
If God’s love for me stems entirely from His own character, and He Himself is love, then He cannot stop loving me. It is the very essence of who He is. The inescapable truth is that His love has nothing to do with my promises and everything to do with His.
One of my favourite stories is found in 1 Kings 19. Elijah has just been part of a spectacular display of God’s strength, demonstrating astonishing faith and courage as he faces down the prophets of Baal. However, as can so often be the case, in the wake of victory he finds himself in the wilderness, exhausted and alone. God’s response to Elijah’s desolation silences again the lie that God loves us most when we are at our best. There is no rebuke. Instead, He allows Elijah to sleep, waking him only to provide the food needed to strengthen his weary body.
The food that has nourished my soul this week is this: He has known about my failed promises and my lukewarm heart from the very beginning. Back when my heart was full and my vision of the future held nothing but passionate, wholehearted devotion, He knew it wouldn’t always be that way. My failures didn’t stop Him from loving me then and they can’t stop Him from loving me now.
The absolute certainty of God’s love comes alongside us in our lowest, most undeserving moments, lifting our heads and reminding us to look up. It is the hope of forgiveness when we are struggling to forgive ourselves and it is the promise that nothing, neither mediocrity nor failure, neither brokenness nor unfulfilled promises can separate us from the love of God.
Yet, when Love catches up with us, it is so much more than comfort and forgiveness. In its underserved outpouring of grace, Love becomes a catalyst for greater things. Later in the same story, refreshed and reassured, Elijah made the long journey to Horeb where God revealed more of himself and prepared Elijah for the next stage of his journey. Similarly, after the Resurrection, Jesus met the disciples on a beach beside the Sea of Tiberias, providing food for their weary bodies and truth to restore their broken hearts and readying them for all that lay ahead.
From one person to another, and through different seasons of life, the tasks we are called to are rich and varied. However, there is one calling that remains constant and unchanging. It is not the call to do or to go but the call to be. To know and be known. To go “further up and further in,” pushing deeper into all that He is and allowing Him to kindle again the passion that sustains us and spurs us on. To cultivate His character so that we can love like He does—unreservedly and without regard to the worthiness of those we have been called to love.
When a compassionate God meets us where we are and accepts us in our frailty He gives us the very thing we need most. Hope. Hope that slowly scatters shadows and allows the light to waken and revive our flagging souls. Whispering the truth that there is no failure great enough to drive us from His heart. Reminding us that, while He loves us in our weakness, He isn’t finished with us yet.
Heidi Johnston is the author of Life in the Big Story and is currently the Rabbit Room’s only Irish contributor. She studied law at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and now, amongst other things, teaches a class on “Poetic and Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament” at Belfast Bible College. Heidi is passionate about getting people to engage with the Bible and has a fascination with the book of Deuteronomy.