Knowing about something is not the same as knowing it. You can know about Scotland with its majestic mountains and shimmering lakes, its delightful glens and running streams, and yet not really know it, unless you have been there to witness the beauty and feel within your very being the fascination and wonder of it all. Knowing about it and knowing it are two very different things. It is the same with the love of God.
You can know about the love of God from the biblical account of his gracious dealings with men; how he has been strangely motivated to save the undeserving from their sins, embracing men and women who, because of their sinful nature and behaviour, are unlovely and repellent to him. And when we discover that he has done this by the sacrifice of his own dear Son, who suffered, ‘the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God’, we have reason to be astonished.
Filled with wonder
But all this is nothing compared with the experience of being ‘touched’ personally by God so that you find yourself unaccountably drawn to Jesus Christ. All the benefits of his great sacrifice and obedience to his Father are made over to you unreservedly, and you find yourself trusting the Saviour of the world and numbered among the children of God – this is knowing the love of God. And, as you consider how unmerited it has all been and how offensive was your sin to God, it is not surprising that you are filled with wonder and praise to such a God.
Furthermore, since you now know the love of God, you are well able to understand why John was deeply moved when he wrote, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God!’ (1 John 3:1). The incongruity of it all! We can know the love of God for sure, but any attempt to explain why God should have made us objects of his love is doomed to fail. Everything about this holy God and his majestic and glorious nature seems to preclude the possibility of him becoming our Father and calling us his children. All we know about ourselves should disqualify us for ever from contemplating such a relationship. All we can say by way of explanation is, ‘He has loved me because he has loved me!’
Less obvious ways
We are not long in the Christian life before we discover countless expressions of God’s love for us. He feeds our souls from his Word, he guides us by his providential acts and by his Spirit within us. He is always prompting us to desire good and holy things. The love and fellowship of other believers is but another channel of God’s own love for us.
But we also come to know God’s love in less obvious ways. We may suffer severe disappointment, and then discover God’s wisdom behind the things denied. We experience the pain of frustration, regret and failure, only to find that God has lovingly overruled our wilfulness and self-centredness for our own good. At times it may seem that God is against us by reason of strange afflictions and peculiar circumstances. We cannot understand it – until we learn that ‘whom the Lord loves, he chastens’ (Hebrews 12:6).
Heaven come down to earth
But this is not all there is to the love of God. A good father will make provision for his child, protect and correct it; but sometimes he will gather the child up in his arms, and heap kisses upon it, speaking gently and affectionately to it.
There are occasions when God does this to his children. I knew a Christian once who had passed though a terrible time of distress and suffering. He felt alone and exposed. His soul had been in the depths of despair. Then one day he attended a Christian meeting, at the end of which he was suddenly filled with a sense of the love of God. As he filed out of the building he came to the steps leading down to the street. There he stopped and the love of God flooded his whole being. There was such a sense of purity and holiness about that love that he knew it could be trusted. He was safe in the arms of his heavenly Father. It was as though heaven had come down to earth. This is surely the sort of experience Paul refers to in Romans 5:5 when he says, ‘the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’.
So let us be careful to ‘keep ourselves in the love of God’ (Jude 21). We must not quench his love by bitterness or wilfulness. Nor must we refuse to accept his corrections and providential dealings with us. If we are to know his love in all its warmth, grace and power, then we must be submissive to God, trusting our Father’s wisdom and goodness.