“I thought spirituality was all about what makes you feel good,” the character on the popular television show, Glee, reasoned, succinctly relating mainstream culture’s definition of God, the feel-good deity of Hollywood and your Facebook feed who desperately desires your friendship. He wants you to live the life you feel in your heart you have been put on the earth to live regardless of any fallout from your choices. He wants you to love and be loved in all its forms with no limits. He wants you to let yourself off the hook for the things you mess up on without taking much time to think about your actions or consequences because He is the “feel-good” God.
The problem with going along with mainstream culture’s definition of God is that the consequences of pursuing what makes you feel good are generally winding up on a never-ending treadmill of reaching for a sense of joy that is ultimately fleeting. When the foundation of your sense of worth is based solely on what you feel, you are subject to the vagaries of the human heart, to the pitfalls of listening to the wrong voices, to believing the negative talk you hear from others and from yourself, negative talk that has no basis in truth. Truth itself is fluid if you base your sense of God on what you feel.
Despite our feelings that the world is continually going downhill, really not much changes. In Biblical times, people also pursued the feel-good gods. Despite the one Lord’s admonition to love Him only, the people also worshipped the wooden idols who promised better crops and emotional pleasure. Ultimately, the result of these actions was that God punished them for that attitude. People in Biblical times who went with the flow of everyone else around them participated in activities that God clearly denounced as wrong. But because most everyone else around them was doing it, most people were content to go with the flow and still think they could rightfully claim they followed GOD.
Even though God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for our sins so that we might be saved, God does not require that we actually like Him. In fact, love and worship are a far cry different from like. Think of your family members, for example. You love them because you share the common bonds of blood and childhood memories, but you don’t necessarily like your family all the time. In the same way, God loves us unconditionally, even though most of the time we act in ways He totally dislikes.
Even though God knew I would be judgmental, prone to gossip, a glutton, and an avid television watcher, among so many other sins, even though He knew every act in my life He was going to dislike, Jesus still died on the cross for my sins. He gave His unblemished life so that I could have eternal peace with God.
God’s love has the unique goal of truly longing for our best selves from the perspective of His heavenly, omnipotent knowing. Just as the parent of a teenager has to lay down rules that aren’t popular, God, who sees the biggest picture of all, loves us enough to give us the boundaries required to achieve a heavenly perspective.
Even though these boundaries are clearly defined in the Bible, we humans manage to argue the point, especially when we confuse God’s love for us with a human need to worship a likeable God. God isn’t very likeable when He tells us not to have sex outside the bounds of marriage or when He insists that marriage should be an unbreakable vow between a woman and a man. He isn’t likeable when He proclaims His right to be the one and only God in our lives so that we should not make idols of other people, like movie stars, or earthly things, such as our possessions.
But God’s love for us trumps any need to like or be liked. Knowing the true God requires us to strip away the layers of our cultural influences, to seek Him in quiet places and learn to listen for His voice. We have to know His Word, all of it, and not just the parts of it that we tend to agree with. If we diligently seek Him, we will be less prone to being led astray by the popular thinking that swirls around us, by the pressures of society to just get along no matter the cost to God’s truth.
It’s wise to regularly take an inventory of your perspective of our awesome God. Are you standing in the truth of God’s love, which encompasses His discipline as well as His compassion, or are you accepting popular culture’s feel-good description of a likeable God? Your growth as a Christian depends on you knowing the difference.
There’s another important component to this concept of a likeable versus a loving God, and that is how we humans fumble through trying to love like Jesus loves. Too often, we only manage to project a condemning and judgmental God who ostracizes instead of encompasses. This alienating approach to making people understand our loving God does Him a great disservice and keeps so many from really hearing the message of God’s true Word.
Next time, let’s look more closely at what it really means to love like God loves, including why God’s love, like any true love, includes boundaries that are for the ultimate good of these souls who are perpetually reaching for the perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ.