For God So Loved the World
I’m bustling around the kitchen the first few minutes after arriving home from work, putting away lunch boxes, sorting the mail, and pulling dinner ingredients out of the fridge. As my hands go through the motions, my head usually trails behind, shifting gears between employee and mama. My five year old appears and asks the question that never fails to stop me in my tracks: “Mama, will God still love me if . . .”
I don’t need to hear the end of the question. He has asked this one approximately four thousand different ways, incredulous to learn that the answer is always, “yes” no matter how grave the circumstances that follow “if.” Today’s query: Will God still love me if I pretend to be leader of the alien army? He’s asked everyone we know some version of this question. I’m pretty sure his kindergarten teachers think we must be super religious, which is funny considering I’m proud of us if we make it to church consecutive weeks, nevermind our performance in the service.
So, for those keeping score, not only do I not have great answers for what function a gallbladder serves, whether demons are real, or what really became of the dinosaurs, I’m also brushing up on theology (FYI: my husband’s childhood Lutheran church did a way better job of actually teaching Sunday School).
Most of us experience a well-documented religious ebb and flow throughout the course of our lives. Traditionally, we start out with a solid foundation, thanks to our parents, but the rebellion and self-discovery of college call our faith into question, and the relative ease of the young professional years don’t tend to drive us back into the church’s ams. Most people experience a spiritual reawakening once children are in the picture, and really, the moment I heard that baby’s heartbeat for the first time is the closest to God I’ve ever come. From there, I think most people turn to faith to address the inevitable feelings of inadequacy parenthood generates, a balm for the knowledge that even my perfect judgment or impeccable planning or boundless energy can’t spare those we love from the world’s heartbreak.
Each time I answer the question, “will God still love me if . . .”, it draws the simplicity and magnitude of God’s grace into sharp relief. My five year old likes bright line answers and predictability, which makes sense in a world where he’s not in control of very much. The five year old in me, as I answer his question, is relieved that the right answer is the comforting one in a world where I also know I’m not in control of very much. The magnitude of God’s grace is that no matter what we dream up and no matter how we stumble, we have already been redeemed.
Which is not to say it’s a fixed state of affairs. This is the part that bothers the five year old. Once saved, always saved? Not necessarily. Once saved, then unsaved? Not by design. But a love that’s not conditioned upon worthiness or effort or the absence of doubt? Sounds like parenthood, how each of us loves our own. No coincidence, then, that this is how God showed his love for us, by sending us his only Son.
Parenthood is full of terrifying limitations – late night emergency room visits or special accommodations at school or a lack of birthday invitations coming our way. The way through that heartache lies in God’s grace. And as mystical as the story of faith sometimes seems, and as complicated as questions of faith can be, what a gift that some answers are simple. God’s love, God’s grace, God’s Son.
Kristen Hawley is a reluctant southerner, who cranks up the classical music and drives a minivan like she means it. She still believes in the power of a good thank you note, yet yearns to do something completely irresponsible. She’s married to her great love and has three kids, who inspire her to chase dreams.