So I had a strange spiritual experience this morning. I usually expect God to meet me in places like a worship “experience” with music and dimmed lights. Or maybe on a long silent retreat. No doubt I sometimes have spiritual experiences in these moments, but it often seems God meets me in the unexpected times and places. This morning was just that kind.
I’m reading to George, my oldest son and my younger son Henry comes and joins us. We’re reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible (Which all parents should purchase and read to your children. It tells the overarching story of Scripture and God’s mission of redemption and reconciliation in a way your children will love and grasp.) George asked me to read the Adam and Eve story. So we get through creation, Adam and Eve, the perfection of the garden, and then how sin enters the world. Adam and Eve have been banned from the garden due to their rebellion.
I always read and thought about the story of God as one where we humans messed up, God turned his back on us, and history was spent trying to get him to like us again. The problem is, that is not a very biblical story when read in its entirety. I like the way this children’s bible tells the story though. It speaks of a God who loves his children so much, that he won’t leave them that way. Though they’ve chosen to turn their back on him, he follows them out of the garden and into the world, and pursues them to the point of giving himself up to evil in order to defeat the powers that have enslaved us. Listen to these words:
“You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children – with a Never Sopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. And though they would forget him, and run from him, deep in their hearts, God’s children would miss him always, and long for him – lost children yearning for their home.
Before they left the garden, God whispered a promise to Adam and Eve: ‘It will not always be so! I will come to rescue you! And when I do, I’m going to do battle against the snake. I’ll get rid of the sin and the dark and the sadness you let in here. I’m coming back for you!” – The Jesus Storybook Bible, page 36
I read these words through a quiver in my voice as I held two of my own children (with the third screaming in the background because she didn’t want to take her nap!). I was overwhelmed by the love of God. Tears entered into my eyes, and I couldn’t help but think about how much God loves his world and how it was his love that propelled him to, in Jesus Christ, die on a cross at the hands of evil humanity.
And here’s the deal, we can go into the world telling people a certain version of the story that sounds like God merely tolerates people who believe in Jesus. A story that sounds like God doesn’t much like his creation or his people, but will “let them off the hook”. We can go into the world threatening people with hell. But I think people are tired of living the hell they’re living, and they are looking for a different story: a story of God’s unending and relentless love. Sure, fear of hell may motivate some temporary change, but being compelled by the love of God may alter a life forever. At least that’s what Paul seemed to be saying in 2 Corinthians 5:14 when he speaks of the love of Christ compelling him to be who he is and do what he does.
When we proclaim the story of Jesus to our neighbors today, may it be a God honoring biblically based story of God’s rescue mission in the world because of his deep love. May it be this overwhelming love of God that has been changing hearts and lives for thousands of years.