Recently, I have been listening to several teachers talk about the contemplative life. Many of them talk about how we are the Beloved of God, and they point to Henri Nouwen’s description of Jesus’ anointing at His baptism. The Father declared Jesus beloved before His ministry ever started, before He ever performed a miracle or preached a sermon. And they embrace this blessing as their own.
The encouragement for those seeking the contemplative way is to center yourself on this promise. During your contemplative prayer focus on the word, “beloved,” marinade in it for a while. Sit with the idea that you are God’s beloved first, of His own accord, before any of your own merits or failures are taken into account.
It’s a beautiful picture. I get the same thing from the story of David and Bathsheba, Solomon and his older sibling. From this story I see how the sacrifice of the older sibling is like Christ on the cross, redeeming David and Bathsheba and placing the favor of God on Solomon, who is named Jedidiah, the Beloved of Jehovah.
We are Jedidiah, loved by God without merit.
But then I ask myself, “So what?” It seems like it should be an obvious answer, but just look around. What difference does the love of God make?
In my earlier post, What Does it Mean to be the Beloved of jehovah?, I considered this question in light of pain and suffering. I wrote:
I think of the favor of God as something which lifts me up out of pain and suffering. I want Him to deliver me from danger and temptation and fear. But that’s not how we experience His love. Instead, the love of God is poured out on us as the strength to endure pain and suffering. His love does not deliver us from the valley of the shadow of death; it leads us through it.
I have to admit there is a part of me that wants to shrug this idea off. To ask, “What good is the love of an all powerful, benevolent God that does not deliver me from suffering?” If we must all endure suffering, and we are not to be delivered out of it, then what difference does it make to be loved by God?
But the love of God is the promise of deliverance, not out of trial but through it.
But isn’t this just placating? After all, we all make it through our trials one way or another, and if death itself is a viable option for “deliverance”, then once again we ask, “What’s the difference?”
Previously, I considered this question in light of suffering, but today I want to consider it in light of spiritual formation. What good is being the Beloved of Jehovah if I do not experience deliverance from habitual sin and temptation? What good is this whole journey if it doesn’t make me a better person from the inside out? What good is a crucified Messiah if He can’t actually set us free from the bondage of sin?
What good is the lack of condemnation if I’m still just a lecherous hump?
I am a pilgrim seeking the face of God because I want to change. I want the promise of 2 Corinthian 3:16 to be true.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (KJV)
This is the promise that I banked on, but when sin crouched at my door, there was no deliverance. And how often I watched this play out for the addict who kept coming back to prison or to AA because they just couldn’t overcome the temptation.
I’m tired of not being able to change.
I’m tired of putting my faith in some nebulous, future hope that has no actual bearing on this earthly life today. I’m tired of this spin cycle theology that always has an excuse for why God didn’t show up. I’m tired of tending this fire.
To be honest, I don’t want a love that simply rubber stamps me with approval as the lecherous hump that I am. I want a love that’s willing and able to develop me into something more. Something worthy. The message that we are worthless sinners forever ensnared, but loved regardless until the day we are finally delivered into spiritual oblivion, is a really depressing gospel.
Isn’t there something more? A hope for today?