When you don’t know how God loves you

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’sbrother?” Declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob…” (Malachi 1:2)

Have you ever asked God, “How have you loved me?”

I have.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fairly easy to grasp the fact that God loves us. It’s fixed within the human heart. There’s an assurance of being loved that embeds itself into a heart renewed by the gospel, for the Spirit himself testifies that we are children of God and if children, then heirs dearly and deeply loved (Romans 8:16-17). God loves the Son, and we are covered by the Son, inheriting all that he has given us, including the love of God. God’s love has been fixed upon us by the work of Christ, and we have bold confidence in knowing that we are indeed loved by the God of the universe.

But even with such a deep assurance to hold onto, the flesh pushes back. It asks, “How have you loved me Lord?” It becomes numb to the promise of the inheritance of God’s love, the love that is deep and wide and high, the love that is graciously and gladly imparted through Christ (Ephesians 3:18-19).

This is where I found myself on a Friday night in San Francisco. I found myself saying to the Lord, “I know that you loved me, but how have you loved me? How have you shown me that you love me? How does taking my sister off this earth demonstrate the truth that my heart knows so well, that your love is indeed set upon me? How, Lord, have you loved me in this?”

This conflict arose within me during one of our teaching times when the speaker said, “We know it’s true that God loves us because the Bible tells us so, but we also know that he loves us because of everything he’s ever done.” I knew what she was saying was true. I knew that God loved me, and loved me deeply, because the Bible told me so. I knew that God had spoken, and that his word was true, and that his love for me was steadfast. But I didn’t understand how, through the death of my sister, he had proven this. I didn’t get how this life-altering event fit into the truth that God loves me by everything he has ever done.

It was the first time I’d been confronted with this conflict, and the first time that I asked God, like the Israelites, “How have you loved me?” So I asked, and he answered.

Fast forward a couple of hours, and I’m sitting at a table talking to a homeless man I’d just met. We begin talking, and God begins answering my prayer:

Jasmine: “Can I ask what your tattoo symbolizes?”

Jose: “I got it in honor of my girlfriend. She died a couple years ago.”

Jasmine: “Oh wow, how are you doing with that?”

Jose: “It still hurts.”

Jasmine: “I know that feeling. I lost my sister a couple of months ago. It still hurts for me, too.”

So we keep talking. He tells me story after story of how much he loved her, and I listen, knowing the depth of his pain. Half an hour passes, and he pauses.

Jasmine: “Do you get to talk about this often?”

Jose: “Never. I haven’t talked about it to anyone in a long time. In fact, I don’t even want to live anymore. I’ve stopped eating. It’s my way of taking my life, just as hers was taken.”

He didn’t know he was loved, so I told him.

Jasmine: “Did you know the Bible says that God is near to the broken hearted? Sometimes I feel just like you do right now. It hurts, and it’s hard to be here. There’s another part in the Bible where Paul says that he would rather leave this earth and be with Christ because this life is so hard and being with God would be far better than staying on this earth. But he keeps going—he says that he knows it’s better for him to stay, because staying means that he gets to help other people hurt less, even if that means more pain for him. He knows that God has purpose for him in staying, so he resolves to stay.

I believe that God is near to you and I in a way that many don’t ever get to experience because we have been broken, and God is faithful to draw near to the broken hearted. I believe that Jesus was broken for us, for our sins and our pain and our disorder and our hopelessness, in order for us to be near to God. He came down to be near to sinful humans and died and rose again in order to bring them to God. And I believe that God has purpose for Paul, for me, and for you to be near to him, to see what Jesus did for us and to trust in his work on the cross to save us from our sin and our pain and our disorder and our hopelessness, and even from death. I believe that God had purpose for keeping Paul on this earth in order for him to be an agent of healing for the hurt. I believe that God has purpose in keeping me hurt, in all of my hurt, in order to tell people about a God who is near to the hurting. And I believe that God has purpose in keeping you here, for you to see and know him, and in turn, to help hurting people see a healing God.”

And just like that, God answered my prayer. Jose went on his way, and as he walked out the door, God showed me how he loved me. God showed me that he loved me by not just allowing me, but orchestrating my loving on other hurting people. God loves us by loving others through us.

I saw this play out not just in my life, but in the youth I got to serve alongside this week. I saw youth share the love of God—the love that is deep and wide and high, the love that is graciously and gladly imparted through Christ—with hurting people on the streets of San Fran. I saw youth being agents of Christ’s healing. I watched them share the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and in turn, I saw them be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). I saw God loving them through their loving of others.

It’s a truth that’s hard to miss, and it’s surely not the only way God has shown us how he loves us. But I am assured that God blesses us in our blessing; he loves us in our loving (Luke 6:38).

It has been hard for me to see how losing my sister is a demonstration of God’s love for me. God has graciously and gradually shown me, however, that this is a sure demonstration of his love. In my hurting, I have been able to offer healing. In knowing that God loves me, I have been able to love others with a love that could only come from him. This is how I know that God has loved me: through laying down his life for me, and by allowing me to lay down my life for others in order that they might turn and be healed. God has loved me through my hurting by using my life to heal the hurting.

Not only that, through this God has drawn me closer to his heart, which is the greatest demonstration of love. I was created to be close to the heart of God, to see him and know him and love him and glorify him, and he has used this to accomplish that purpose. Every heart was created to be close to the heart of God, and he sometimes uses hurt to accomplish his healing.

My prayer is the same for you. Are you hurting? I pray that you see that God is near to the brokenhearted. Do you know people who are hurting? I pray that God uses your hurt to in order heal. I have seen how God has loved me, I have seen how he has loved our youth, and I have seen how he has loved the hurting in San Francisco. We are all hurting, whether big or small, and God intends to bring healing to the hurting and glory to his name. I pray that you see not only that God loves you, but that he shows his love to you by loving others through you. Your life has purpose and your hurting has purpose, all to the glory of God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Turn, and be healed. Turn, and heal.

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