Continuing in the series of mysteries of the Bible , I would like to examine one of the most striking aspects of God’s character as it relates to the Bible, and examine what it means for us in terms of application. God’s love for people, even people who are hostile to Him and enemies to Him, is nearly universally known and believed, whether someone is living a godly life or not. Regularly signs in sporting events will quote John 3:16, which, of course, reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Even the most unsophisticated among us when it comes to understanding theology has some intellectual understanding that God claims to be love and to have love for ordinary human beings like ourselves. We may not feel loved by God, but if we know anything about the Bible we know that God is love, and that the lack of love we may feel from those who claim to obey God rubs us strongly the wrong way and causes great offense. How often, though, do we stop to ask why God loves those whom He loves? It is one thing to know that God loves us, it is a different thing to feel loved by God, and it is still a yet different thing to have any idea why God loves us.
Clearly, God does not love us because we are righteous and because we have it all together. This is not true of the best of us, and is certainly not true of most of us, myself definitely included. Over and over again, the Bible makes it a special point to show special love and favor to those who were often neglected and ignored by others. In fact, this is so common of a leitmotif in the Bible, so consistent, that we need to take in the scale of it without being overly burdened by distracting commentary. So, here are some of the many representative samples that demonstrates God’s love for those who the world plays little attention or regard to:
1 Corinthians 1:26-31: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.””
John 9:39-41: “And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.”
Luke 4:16-19 (which itself contains a quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2): “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.””
Isaiah 56:6-8: ““Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.””
Leviticus 19:32-37: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord. And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them: I am the Lord.”
Matthew 25:31-46: ““When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
We may read these passages, and many others like them, and their words roll off of our ears like water rolls off of a duck’s back. “Yes, yes,” we say to ourselves, of course we are to love our enemies, love strangers, respect the elderly, and on and on and on. Yet being told that we are to show love for others as God loves us does little good, for our lives are not filled with graciousness and compassion for others any more than they were before. So let us ask the question we began with. If we know God loves those who hate him, and shows special love and concern for those who are despised, those who are marginalized, those who are neglected, and those who are mistreated, why? Knowing the reasons why, and reflecting on them, gives us insight into the nature of God’s love and what excites His infinite store of gentleness and compassion. Knowing why it is that God loves those who are despised may help us to better feel loved by God, particularly if we feel ourselves not to be very loveable people on our own. After all, we are all prone to feeling loveable only to the extent that we feel ourselves to be loved. If others are not in the habit of loving us, we do not often stop to wonder what is wrong with them, and what is defective about their hearts that they do not show the love that they ought to show towards us, but rather what is wrong with us.
Ezekiel 16:1-13, part of a very long and sad story of the treachery of the people of Israel and Judah to God, gives us a large part of the answer, providing several elements of the motives of God’s love, especially for those who are mistreated or abused in some fashion: “Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God. Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty.’”
We see several different aspects of love that God had for Israel. For one, we see love in terms of compassion—Israel was, at its founding as a nation during the Exodus from Egypt, mistreated and abused, and part of God’s love was compassion for that which is broken and a desire to make it whole. Part of it springs from a desire to see life, the same love of life that has led to the beautification of the earth with all kinds of odd and fascinating organisms, and a love of beauty as well. Part of it was the sort of love that we would associate with marriage and with romantic intimacy, a desire to be at one with others on all levels. This too is part of what God wants with us, not merely to give us blessings and gifts and send us on our way, but a desire to dwell in us, to be one with us as we ought to be one with Him and with each other. These are all aspects of the reasons why God loves us, and why He takes special pleasure in those who are neglected and rejected by the rest of humanity at large, why it is that He makes His home so readily among outcasts. A large part of God’s love for humanity, and especially those people whom He focuses on, is a desire to take what has been mistreated and besmirched and neglected and to clean it and refine it and heal it so that it will show His image and His likeness, and reflect His glory to the rest of the world, as a model to draw still more people to Him, once they have heard of and believe tales of His generosity of Spirit and His graciousness towards the unworthy.
In God’s eyes, what makes us most difficult to love is not our scars, not our wounds, not our brokenness and difficulties and troubles. These God views with tenderness and compassion, with the gentle hands of a healer and the kind eyes of one who is immensely skilled at seeing the hidden beauty in what does not consider itself beautiful. Instead, what makes us hard to love is our fear of being loved, our terror at being seen for who we are, our fear of the intensity of the passion that God has for humanity. The same fear that makes us hard to love for other people makes us hard to love by God, and vice versa. We do not have the courage to face One who can see inside us, understand every aspect of our being, all of the dark places and hidden wounds that we put beneath the bravest face possible, and still loves us anyway, still wants us to be whole, and still wants to dwell inside of us and to give us eternal life through adoption into His family. Far too often we are terrified to be known and terrified to be loved, because we know we are not worthy, and because we are afraid to allow ourselves to be that vulnerable in the absence of trust. The larger question is, how are we to develop the courage to recognize the love that God has for us, so that it may fill our lives and extend out to those around us, and how are we to develop the ability to trust others wisely, and to allow ourselves to be remade whole into His image, rather than be content to remain broken and wounded and scarred as we are. For we cannot love others until we first recognize that we are loved, not for who we are, but for who God is, and for what God sees in us—Himself.
 See, for example: