I am sure that many of us have seen the t-shirt displayed on social media that reads "'Believe in me or I will send you to hell' - this is love?" But the world can't understand that they already stand condemned because of the rebellion they were born into. They are already going to hell and God is doing everything he can to save them from it. The t-shirt should read, "Hey look out! You are going to hell. Trust me and I will rescue you."
What we understand about love and God depends on whose perspective you look at it from. If we try to understand it from our vantage point we need to understand that our perspective is limited. Paul said it is like trying to see through a clouded window. We can see shapes and movements but we can't make out details. However, when we allow God to show us from his perspective we can have a much better understanding, although we are still unable to understand everything yet and must trust the goodness of our Father. But even still, with a cloudy window, most parents understand that love is not always "butterflies and daffodils".
What kind of parent would you be if you gave your child whatever he asked for? A popular one? Maybe, for a little while. But our responsibility is not to raise spoiled and needy children. Love means saying no when what they want is not beneficial to their development. Our responsibility is to teach them and help them mature into productive and responsible adults. It is our responsibility to introduce them to Jesus, to teach right from wrong, how to make mature decisions, how to love God and others. We also have to teach them how to avoid dangers, not to hurt themselves and to be wise in their actions. It is a full plate and we cannot always expect our children to understand but we can expect them to trust and obey. Sound familiar? Now, about that t-shirt.
Our Father's longing is for us to be with him for eternity. His first desire is to save us from the dangers of hell but his second desire is also to mature us so that we will be like Jesus. There are a lot of things he has to help us go through. Just as a good parent will use every situation their children get into as a teaching opportunity, God will often allow use circumstances we have gotten ourselves into as teaching opportunities.
Now, what is greater love, to rescue us every time and spoil us, or to strengthen us to face situations so that he can teach us and help us mature? Is it not enough to know that he is with us in it and that he will never allow a situation to overwhelm us? Sometimes we have to face that "valley of the shadow of death" but knowing he is with us is all we need to keep going.When a parent teaches a child to swim, the parent is in the pool. That parent has to let go of the child so the child will learn but if the waters overwhelm, the parent is there to pluck the child from danger. This too is love.
My concern is that many preachers are preaching an immature love, a love that does not include risk and correction, a love that spoils the child and fades with time, a love with no real eternal perspective; just a feel good in the moment or a false sense that all is well. This love says that mom and dad love you too much to correct you for breaking that thing they told you not to touch. That love says, mommy and daddy would never punish you for doing what comes naturally. They ignore the truth of God's love:
don’t make light of it,
and when he corrects you,
don’t be discouraged.
The Lord corrects the people
and disciplines those
he calls his own.”
I didn't want to leave any of that out. The same Father who calls to the world in love, "Trust my Son and be rescued", also pours himself into our development so that we will be holy as he is holy. We should not try redefining this love, instead we should be rejoicing in a love that corrects our wrong and teaches us so we mature. We should not avoid his correction but celebrate it. We should say, "Examine my heart and see if there is any offensive way in me, that I will be corrected and set upon the right path".
This too is love. This is God's perfect love. And we trust him for it.