A friend told me this story about himself.
He had just started at Bible college and after the first lecture he went up to his professor and said "This book tells me I'm going to hell because I'm gay. Tell me why."
There are 101 things his professor could have said to him. A professor of theology might have turned to several passages in the Bible, and begun some kind of exegesis. What he said was this:
"This book tells you that God loves you."
That was all that he said. He didn't add anything to that, or explain it, or give a caveat or a reference or anything else. He didn't need to because his sermon was completely self-contained and accurate. My friend was blown away by this and completely transformed - it hit him right between the eyes that he would always have this bottom line: God loved him. No ifs, no buts, no ands. God loves him.
So my friend's professor taught me a wonderful, simple lesson about love.
The Bible college was a residential one and my friend had to share a room, like many other students. He was sharing with a young man who thought he knew a lot about a lot of things. Reader, you may have met one or two young men like him. The room mate shared a lot of opinions about homosexuality that hurt my friend, for example that it he would never let a child of his go to a Sunday school class that my friend was teaching, because my friend was not safe to be in contact with children.
When I hear people say things like this, my reaction is to first get very angry and then to write them off. I define that person as ignorant and hateful and resolve to no longer be in contact with them. But my friend is different to me because he had learned a very simple lesson about love that had changed his life. My friend was angry with him and told me that often it was very hard for him not to punch his room mate in the face. I empathised. But, he said, but he also knew that he was loved. And that made it difficult for him to hate. He was so convinced and changed by this heart knowledge of his status as an unconditionally loved person, that his instinct to love this person was stronger than his instinct to hate him. Not because he thought he ought to love him as 'the right thing to do' but because his knowledge that he was loved compelled him to love this guy, and to keep coming back to this point again and again, even though he was hurt by him again and again.
I was bowled over by this.
It highlighted a couple of important things for me. The first is that although I completely agree with my friend's professor, I think I don't really believe it for myself deep down. I understand that I am loved by God and that there is a full stop at the end of that sentence, and no other sentence is needed. But I always like to add my own but, or my own and. God loves me but he also hates me a bit and expects me to do more than I ever possibly can and when I don't, he hates me a bit. But yes, he loves me. Or God loves me and it's because I don't do this thing. Or God loves me and it's because I am so this and so that. I think the fact that my friend didn't add his own but or and, is the reason why his life was changed by it and he was able to love his enemy. I think my buts and ands are what makes me withdraw from my enemies and write them off.
So the second thing I realised is that my dogged refusal to accept this unconditional love thing has meant that I'm very bad at loving. Because loving means staying and not running away. I am about to join a new church and I've realised that part of the reason I've taken so long to choose one is because I don't want to take the painful risk of committing to love. I have been hurt by a lot of people similar to my friend's room mate and I have seen a lot of friends hurt by his kind and my instinct is to think that Christians are often not very nice so I'll withdraw. But I also know that being part of a church means that I am called to love people - that's sort of the point of it. And some of those people will think they know a lot about a lot of things and will say things and they will hurt me and I want to be someone who stays and loves them. And the reason I want to do that is because it's sinking in that I am loved and then there is a full stop. And that full stop is starting to make me want to be brave and love others with my own full stop. I think that's probably a better attitude to join a church with than the one I've had of late.
Here is a link that has helped me to soak in the full stop: Everyone everywhere needs to know this.