Our pastor posed this question on Sunday at church, "What does it mean to love God?" He asked us to think on it and bring back some answers the next Sunday. I know what I used to think it meant, and that was following a big long list of do's and don't's, and knowing whether or not I was on the mark by how closely I adhered to the do's instead of the don't's.
I now believe that is a bunch of garbage. It's good to open my mind to consider defining my relationship with God in terms of what it means to say I love him. Do I get something from him, and that's what I love about the relationship? Do I expect him to meet my needs and pitch a tantrum like a toddler when I perceive that isn't happening?
If I'm honest, I think that loving God means understanding how to be loved by him, at the same time as I learn to offer my love in return. Unless I see love modeled in front of me in a real and practical way, I don't know what it looks like and can't easily return it. True love should be unconditional, and layered with masses of grace, but so little of this kind of love exists in the world that it becomes hard to define.
So much of the love I offer is tied into performance: if you behave in a way that pleases me, I will love you. It's easy for me to transfer that faulty definition to my relationship with God, and believe that he accepts me when I am pleasing to him, and the rest of the time, he is indifferent or frustrated.
I am learning to see God differently, for if I believe he is not bound to the foibles of humankind, then he must love differently, and possibly be loved differently. But if he knows me as intimately as I would like to think he does, then he either chooses to love me with all of my failings, or he doesn't. I have to decide which one I think it is.
Forgiveness is a huge component of love in human relationships, but if God is perfect, do I have to forgive him for anything, or is it one-sided in that he is the only one forgiving me? Perhaps I have to forgive my own warped view of God from time to time, and in that way, level out the playing field a little bit.
I'm not meaning to ruffle any feathers here, or propose a theological truth. I am simply spitballing in an effort to answer my pastor's question as honestly as I can. I know I often look at God through a lens which is cracked and broken, because my father was not perfect and he was the first picture I had of God as a child. Loving my dad and receiving love from him was a complicated give and take relationship, filled with pain and hurt, and it has hopelessly coloured the way I see God.
I would like to feel accepted by God, no matter how black my heart or how wrong my actions may be, and be able to experience his love in a way that feels real and understandable to me. I believe that I am on a journey to end up at this destination, but I am still a long way from the finish line on this thing. I know in my head that God is not the same as the dad I was given, but there is a fair distance between the head and the heart, and I need to keep walking this road in order to feel truth with any amount of clarity.
Asking the question is good. What does it mean to love God? How do we know he loves us, and that we love him? I have more questions than answers, but I know there should be a flow between us, of giving, receiving and actually feeling love, and sometimes it's there and often it's not. I will eagerly anticipate hearing other people's answers on Sunday, and see if I can move closer to an honest expression of what this love between God and I genuinely looks like.