God likes me.
Sure, I’ve always known God loves me. I was taught that practically from the cradle. After all, He is God. And God is love. So of course He loves me. He loves everybody. That’s what He does, right?
But likes me? God likes me?
Wise old seminary professors would step in about here and advise caution. They would insist that “liking” someone is simply a silly, sentimental human emotion. Love, on the other hand, especially God’s love, is what the ancient Greeks called “agape”. This “agape” is the highest expression of love, one that far transcends mere “like”. So of course, God loves us with this wonderful “agape”. To suggest that He “likes” us is just – well – beneath Him.
With all due respect to the good professors: I don’t think they quite get it. Consider the following illustration:
I’m working in a soup kitchen at the rescue mission downtown. The stuff we serve isn’t anything like Mom’s, but it does fill empty bellies and warm cold bones. As the weary faces shuffle past, I smile and murmur a quiet greeting to every one, giving each a ladle-full of the steaming mystery mix.
One day this new guy comes in. He looks familiar. A little skinnier than I remembered, but it’s him. In high school, he was my worst enemy. I couldn’t stand him. He had no use for me, either. After we graduated, neither of us ever cared to see the other again.
Now, here he is. In my soup line.
Our eyes lock, and there is instant recognition. This has to be his worst nightmare. I’m the last person he wants to find here, serving him soup. But he is frozen and hungry, and he knows what he must do. Lifting his head slightly, he humbly raises his empty bowl, and waits – and hopes.
Now, I know what I must do. Laying aside years of resentment, I dish up some soup, and carefully drain the ladle into his bowl. But as he starts to move on, I motion for him to stop. I dip my ladle in once more – and give him an extra portion, filling his bowl to the rim.
And there you have it. A perfect illustration of God’s beautiful, pure agape love, right?
At least that’s how I’d always imagined it. Although I wasn’t exactly God’s enemy, I certainly was someone who had offended Him deeply. And even though He didn’t like me very much, God still loved me with this altruistic, I-love-you-anyway kind of love. Each week I would come to Him, destitute and hungry, begging His forgiveness. And each week I would always leave with far more than I deserved.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, objects the tiny Jerry Seinfeld on my shoulder. And he’s right. After all, that’s the most a vile, filthy sinner can expect from Holy God, right? Gracious agape. Loving mercy. Maybe even forgiveness – if I grovel enough.
I kind of like my story because I get to play God, and that jerk I don’t like has to play the vile, filthy sinner. But now let’s change up the plot a bit.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I’ve come to the rescue mission to help serve a hearty holiday lunch. Nothing special – rubber turkey slices over gooey bread-crumb dressing, topped with a shiny plastic substance we like to call “gravy”. I’m happily and humbly fulfilling my humanitarian duty, extending gracious agape to the poor and needy, when in walks a person who (you guessed it) looks familiar. But this time, it’s not my former nemesis.
This time it’s a long-lost friend.
I am shocked to see him here. We were great buddies in college, but lost touch over the years. Now, he has apparently run upon some horrible misfortune and lost everything. As soon as he recognizes me, he turns and lowers his head. He is ashamed for his old pal to see him here – homeless, ragged, begging for bread.
So now, what do I do?
Well, first of all I holler out his name, then tear my apron away and almost jump over the counter to get to where he is standing. I throw my arms around him and give him a big bear hug. Finally, I do something I would not do for anyone else in that line: I invite him over to my house to share Thanksgiving dinner with me and my family.
Why? Because I like this guy. We were best friends. Of course he’s coming home with me.
The stuffy old seminary professors would lower their eyebrows and scold that true “agape” would have done the same for the one who is my enemy. Okay. But here’s where they’re missing the point. This is something different. This is beyond some gobbledygook Greek word like “agape”.
This is friendship.
God doesn’t look upon me as some vile offender upon whom He condescendingly showers His pity. Instead, I am His cherished friend, whom He welcomes to His table. A little messy, a little embarrassed to be there, but still – His friend.
God likes me.
The more that tumbles over and over in my cognitive dryer, the more sense it makes. After all, why would the God of the Universe care to invite me into the eternal joy of His luminous presence just for the privilege of serving me an extra ladle of soup?
But if I was really someone special to Him….