The God Who Loves His Enemies
Only the most devoted master could love a dog like that. Matted black fur salted with gray, eyes milky with cataracts, her lower jaw jutted forward showing a feisty row of teeth. But she was lost and alone, and I couldn’t just leave her to wander.
Walking my own two dogs one morning, I happened upon this homely little mutt crossing the street near a soon-to-be-busy elementary school crosswalk. Left her to her own devices, she’d be roadkill before the school bell rang. However, she had no interest in being helped. She wouldn’t let me near her, even as I chased her through hedges and yards offering treats. I tied my own dogs to a stop sign to see if she would come closer, but nope. She growled and snapped and ran away every time I got near. After about forty-five minutes, a woman saw me and offered to help me trap the ten-pound troublemaker in her fenced-in back yard. I cornered the mutt, took a photo of the tag on her collar, and called the owner to come get her.
The woman who answered the phone sobbed with gratitude. Turns out this mostly blind and deaf fourteen-year-old dog had traveled nearly four miles in less than twelve hours. Her family was frantic. “She’s not cute and she’s not even nice, “said her owner. “But I can’t help it. I just love her.”
Walking my own (adorable) dogs home, I found myself teary over her owner’s happiness. That dog had nothing to offer. It was ill-tempered, old, and probably not very playful. But she was loved, and that alone made her worth the effort to bring her home.
Friends, this is how God feels about us, only infinitely more so. Let that sink deep into your bones and hold it there. He did not set his affection on us and choose us because we were any better-looking, better-behaved, smarter, or stronger than anyone else (Deuteronomy 7:7). We are none of those things. The Bible – and experience—says we are a stiff-necked people, blind to our own desperate need, determined to “speak our own truths.” We growl at God and run the other way. We try to make Him owe us by being good. We ignore Him. And yet He pursues us.
There’s no rhyme or reason to it; it makes no human sort of sense; but it’s true. He loves us because He loves us. And oh, how He loves us.
This is God, feeding the Israelites daily manna while they whine for the leeks and onions of their captivity in Egypt. This is God, providing a fish to protect and redirect a runaway Jonah. This is the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep. This is the father, running to hug the neck of the son who rejected his love in favor of his fortune.
This is Jesus, deserted, beaten, bloody, hanging on a cross.
“… God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… (Romans 5:8, 10). His love for us makes us worth all the suffering Jesus went through to bring us home.
Hard as it is to wrap our own minds around our belovedness, it’s even harder to explain it to the teenagers we disciple. Sometimes the teenagers in our homes and churches act just like that uncooperative little dog. Willfully ignorant of the danger all around, they snap and snarl when we stretch out a hand to help. They need us to show them the same love we have ourselves received, a love that patiently pursues, no matter how unloveable they act. This is a love that heals wounded, sin-damaged hearts, a love that rejection cannot alter, a love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13: 7).
A love that turns enemies into friends.
In this fraught and anxious season, when we are wearied by coronavirus, racial injustice, political division, and the rage and sadness of it all, we bear witness to the love of God before our teens when we obey perhaps the most difficult command of all. “But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45) He isn’t asking us to do anything He has already done Himself: “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son…” (Romans 5:10).
By the grace of God – very literally, by His grace – it is when we love our enemies that we come closest to showing the world – and our teenagers – what God really looks like.
What joy we forfeit when we fail to grasp our belovedness! We need to work it into our hearts every single day. Here are some ways to revel in His love and share it with others:
This version of Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go, sung by Indelible Grace and Sandra McCracken, will get you dancing. Share with your teens the story of George Matheson, who wrote the hymn in five minutes and never changed a word.
When he was a young man, Matheson lost his sight studying for the ministry. His fiancé broke off their engagement, saying she did not want a blind husband. Matheson wrote this hymn years later, on the eve of his sister’s wedding, when he faced the prospect of losing her too, and living alone in his blindness. Though the people he loved best left him behind, he rejoiced in the Love that he knew would never, ever let him go.
Meditate on what CS Lewis says about the inexorable love of God:
“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some “disinterested,” because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so likely invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of the host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as an artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exactly as love between the sexes.” CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain
And finally, listen to Crowder’s How He Loves, and let yourself be “drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes…”