I was thinking recently about how it is only an understanding of God’s immense love for us that will keep us from the idols and addictions that trouble us. Think about it on a human level. The threat of getting caught may keep someone from cheating on their wife yet others know they might get caught. Indeed, they take great precaution for fear of getting caught and it doesn’t stop them from cheating. Only love has the power to stop us. I talked to a friend recently about how churches seem to be afraid of teaching that there is nothing, NOTHING, that can separate us from God’s love, or they teach it with caveats for fear people will take advantage of God’s love. But if they sin, if I act out, it’s because we have failed to understand how much he loves us. When we understand, truly understand, how much we are loved we don’t want to do anything to trample on that love.
And as an aside, when we put caveats on God’s love are we really afraid of someone taking advantage of him or us? God doesn’t need our protection. He can take care of himself. I think it’s really that we ourselves have limits to what we are willing to tolerate, of how far we are willing to go with our love, and it’s ourselves we are protecting.
Of course there are legitimate boundaries. I would never say to a woman whose husband is abusing her or continues to have affairs that she should just hang in there and love him without putting some boundaries in place. But the boundaries are not an end of love but a continuation of it. It’s not, “I’ve loved you and loved you and given you multiple chances and now I’ve got to put some boundaries in place. I can’t love you anymore until you demonstrate change.” No, the boundaries are a continuation of love. “Because I love you and because I love and value myself as an image-bearer I’m putting limits in place to protect myself from your ability to hurt me and in hope that the limits will help you see the folly of your ways.” The limits are meant to prod them to run back to Jesus with all that they are, with all they’ve done, in full repentance and acceptance of his love.
If the prodigal in Luke 15 had gone to his father the morning after the welcome home party and said, “hey Pops, I’ve got some more business in the far country, places to go, people to see, and I just need a few bucks for the trip” the father would not be any less loving if he had replied, “no son. You are free to leave, but you will not have any money from me.” Both ways the father responded, the true to the story waiting for the son with deep longing and joy upon his return and the made up by me response with boundaries are loving responses.
The message is never, “God loves you so that means you can do whatever you want.” I mean, in a sense that is true. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, even the foolishness that would act without thinking of how much his loves costs him. That idea of God carries a false image of him as the doting grandfather who says, “kids will be kids. Let’em have fun. There’s no harm done.” The message is, “if you understand how much he loves you you will only want to do things that are pleasing to him.”