Recently, while at a church, I overheard a father say to his 10 year old:
Stop running in the sanctuary! It makes God cry when you do that and you don’t want to make God sad.
It made me sad to hear him describe God in such a way. For his son to grow up believing his (innocuous) actions have that kind of impact on God’s feelings. To believe God is disappointed in him.
There are many things in the world that make God weep (war, natural disaster, the ubiquity of the Kardashians)--but a child’s desire to run? In God’s house? I sure hope not…
Now, it is a father’s prerogative to ask his son to walk when he runs, whisper when he shouts, behave when he misbehaves. What gets under my skin is the presumption that God’s love is somehow contingent on behaving.
Too often, God’s approval is presented as a set of rules:
Do: Say this prayer; read the bible everyday; wear your Sunday best
Don’t: listen to this music; kiss that person; ask too many questions; color outside the lines
Earning love and approval is an American cultural trope and I’m afraid many strains of Christianity have co-opted the language--as if those who “work hard” and “play by the rules” will “get what they deserve”.
The faith of Jesus, though, is radically counter-cultural! When we get caught-up in trying to earn or deserve God’s favor, scripture hits us over the head with a gentle two-by-four proclaiming:
This is love: it is not that we loved God but that God loved us
God doesn’t love us because (because we do x, y, and z with a cherry on top); God loves us because God is love. Period. Full stop.
If you’re plagued by a rule-bound-kind-of-faith, a judgmental, crying-over-your-mistakes-kind-of God, practice believing that you are BELOVED. Period. Full Stop.
Write the word BELOVED on a post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror; make BELOVED the wallpaper on your phone; tattoo BELOVED on your arm.
And then spend some time, every day, running joyfully through God’s beautiful world.
By Kate Floyd