“Does God love me?”
This is one of the biggest questions any of us will ever have to answer. It can haunt us for years. I know it haunted me. “Jesus loves me, this I sometimes know” is what I used to say to describe that struggle.
After years of seeking and searching, I know God loves me, and I don’t struggle with that question the way I used to. Over the last few years of my life, however, I’ve had to answer what, for me, has been a more difficult question: the question of “can I love God?”
When my prayers go unanswered for decades, when horrifying atrocities happen throughout the world, when a pandemic hits — these are the times I have to ask myself if I can keep loving a God who at times seems distant and uncaring.
I settled the existence of God long ago; I can’t disbelieve. I don’t have the luxury of atheism. Even in the midst of grief, if I get really quiet, my soul knows I still believe. So in the face of disappointment, I can’t just chuck all this religious stuff. I have to deal with the questions. I have to deal with my anger at this seemingly incompassionate creator.
Asking, “Can I love God?” is not the same as asking if you can obey or honor God. You can obey without love. But a life without loving God is a pretty despondent life. We were made to love.
I had been asking myself this question ever since we arrived in the States earlier than we had planned. I landed in America and couldn’t understand why all my hopes and dreams for the spring semester came crashing down.
I couldn’t understand why God didn’t stop this pandemic, because people were dying and starving all over the world. This is always happening, true, but the suffering, starvation, and death are much worse in the current global crisis. And there’s so much uncertainty about when it will end.
If God cared about any of these things, why didn’t He stop coronavirus? He could have. A God who forged galaxies with His voice and breathed life into dust could certainly stop a simple string of RNA from causing mass suffering. Add to that the thousands of years of suffering that God has also chosen not to stop, and I wasn’t sure I cold love a God who lets so many bad things happen.
God and I weren’t on speaking terms, to say the least.
This wasn’t the first time I had questioned my love for God. A few years ago I was struggling with some unanswered prayers. Decades-long prayers. The question I felt God asking me in that season was: “Even if I don’t answer these prayers, can you still love me?”
This question is different from the question of the fiery furnace, when we are asked if we will continue to worship and serve the one true God even when he does not rescue or heal. It is different from the question posed to Simon Peter on the beach, when Jesus asks, “What is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
God has asked these questions in the past. But they were not what God was asking me now. What He was asking me now was, can I love a God who is like this? A God who sometimes seems distant and uncaring? Even if this thing that I desperately want or need never comes to pass, He asks me if I will still love him.
I had to walk deep into the prayer closet to find out if I still would. It took hours. I wrestled through tears. Through tissues. Through cramped hands furiously scribbling in my journal.
In the end, after conversing with Job and Jacob and Lewis and Jesus himself, I knew I still loved God. But I wasn’t sure whether that made me happy or sad. Happy to know I still love Him; sad to know this is the God I love. I am yoked to a God who seemingly allows senseless destruction. And in spite of the suffering, I somehow still want this God. This is a great mystery, and I do not pretend to understand it.
I only know I don’t have to give God the cold shoulder anymore. I only know that on Sunday mornings when all seems bleak, I can sing again. I can pray again. For “though He slay me, yet I will trust him.” And “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
And “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”