He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32
The hardest moment to trust God's love is in the moment when we are most unlovable. That makes perfect sense because we know it to be true from experience.
When someone else is unlovable we find our love challenged. When they are mean. When they are ugly. When they are disappointing. When their breath stinks. Our love wanes and weakens in these moments. Sometimes we can rally it to strength and love the other person in spite of their unlovability. But more often we just wait for them to become lovable again, and then we try to forget the icky stuff.
And that of course is a loving thing to do.
But what if we could love them - actually feel affection and desire for them - in the moment of their darkest failing?
This works both ways. We, too, are unlovable at times. We lash out at others and we see how that weakens their love for us. They shrink back, look away, stop smiling, back off, quit talking. They walk the other way. We falter in sin and we see how that challenges others to love us. They avoid certain topics. They don't call back. They ignore us. They find other friends. We get sick and our germs drive people away. They don't hug. They guard themselves from us.
We, too, are hard to love. And the upshot of this all - the way our experience with those moments of unlovability in others or ourselves affects our relationship with God is that we assume he is the same way.
But he isn't.
Today's verse tells us that God didn't spare his own Son but he gave him for us all. Remember when that gift was given - at our moment of greatest worthlessness. The moment we were hardest to love:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8
Jesus died surrounded by human mocking, arrogance, stupidity, helplessness, hatred, and blasphemy. He died with human sin ringing audibly in his ears and pouring tangibly down his skin. And yet that death - marinated in sin - was carried out in love for sinners. At the moment when he most clearly experienced the sting of our sin, he was fulfilling the greatest act of love a person can demonstrate to another person. Dying at the hand of human sin, he asked God for our forgiveness.
Just when you or I would have looked around and said, "This isn't worth it. These losers aren't worth saving," Jesus said, "forgive them, for they know not what they do" and "today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:34,43). His greatest act of love was prompted by and demonstrated in the face of unbelievable human ugliness.
So here's the point: if Christ has already ingested the full dose of all our sin in one swallow, and if in the moment of that experience he has demonstrated his deepest love, why then should we be afraid that we might do anything to drive him away, now that we are his friends? Paul is being painfully logical here, and asking you to believe the gospel on the basis of what makes perfect sense:
"For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Romans 5:10).
There's nothing you can do - sin, weakness, failure - that Christ hasn't already felt and experienced in his death on your behalf. That's why when those moments happen you can feel confident to trust his love for you. You can trust him to graciously give you all the things you need to get back up again and keep loving and being loved by him and by others - forgiveness, healing, restoration, and victory.
There are friends - most all our friends - who, if we get ugly enough we will lose them. If they knew what we've done, what we've thought, they'd drop us like a hot potato. Unless their love for us is deeply driven by Christ's love for them, they will be incapable of loving us once they know who we really are.
That is why we are afraid. We're afraid of being known and of knowing others. We're afraid of being loved because we know we'll lose it, and we're afraid of loving because we know that the more we love, the deeper inside another person it takes us, where we know there is sin and failure and weakness and pain. Pain for us. And so we don't risk loving. We're guarded. We live a lie about who we really are, because we don't want to be unlovable to others, but in doing so we know they aren't really loving us. They're loving someone who doesn't exist. The sinless perfect we know we are not.
But the love of Christ frees us from all this fear. It enables us to give more of ourselves just as God has given us "all things" - to know and be known, to love and be loved, even though we know that love will always take us to the darkest corners of a person's heart.
But that's really what it's all about. When Christ loved us, he penetrated the grave. The grave that we should have been in - the grave filled with God's rejection and wrath. The darkest depth of our sin. And since he loved us with such great love, he wanted to. Love made it so he would rather know all of us than only a part of us.
And when we are safe in that love, we are safe to love that way. We can penetrate deeper to the heart of another person because our love for them makes us want more of them - even if that "more" is hard.
And the beauty is, love is the fluid that God uses to wash sin. So when we love another person and when our love takes us deep into their lives where there is sin, that love is used by God to actually make them more lovable. And when we let ourselves be loved by someone who is willing to go there, we find that love washes us, too. Just like in Beauty and the Beast (see my post, "We'll be human again.")
This is the design and purpose of love, as God created it. It comes from him. And when love is working right, love actually works.
But when it is working right, love is strong against fear and pain. It doesn't care. That's what Jesus showed us - that real love is completely self-abandoning. It doesn't protect itself. It simply gives.
And that same love that died for you, it's there for you every day, ready to give. Trust it. Learn it. Receiving God's love daily in worship, in the enjoyment of his presence, will give you power you cannot imagine. The power to love.
Claim it. Spend some time meditating on the question Paul poses here in Romans 8:32. He's challenging you logically. Let it sink in. Explore the places in your heart where the logic of God's love is being confused by pain or fear. Ask him to make sense of your pain and fear with his love. Ask him to help you trust him, and get logical with Paul about why you can.