I have had the privilege of attending a series of Ligonier Ministries National Conferences, and along the way I have noticed a little phenomenon or tradition that takes place at the beginning of these events. For many of the people who attend, these conferences mark an annual opportunity to connect with friends. Many people have attended the conference year after year, and along the way they have met new friends or have reconnected with old friends. The conference offers a once-per-year opportunity to spend a little time together and to catch up on the year that has gone by.
I remember a time when people carried printed photos in their wallets or small photo albums in their purses. Today, though, people carry photos on their cell phones or on their iPods. So often, when I see people meet after the passing of yet another year, I see them embracing and then immediately digging out their phones or their iPods to show off the pictures of their children or grandchildren. And it is interesting to hear them talk, to hear them share proudly about the children they’ve already begun to miss even after only one or two days apart. As you listen to these parents tell about their children, you notice that they dwell on the things that make them proud. “Brian is nine. He loves basketball and leads his team in scoring. He’s getting so tall. His head comes up to my chest now, and he eats like there’s no tomorrow. And here’s Rebecca. She is fourteen. You can see she looks just like her mom. She loves cameras and says she wants to be a photographer. . . .”
You know, of course, that the last year has not been free of conflict. You know that Mom and Dad are probably working hard to maintain boundaries around Rebecca, who is already acting out as a rebellious teenager, and that they are working hard to make Brian respect authority. It may well be that on the night before he left, Dad had to invoke some discipline, and he left the house only after making Rebecca promise that she would obey the person who is watching her while her parents are away. But when Dad gets together with his friends, these things are not at the front of his mind. He loves his children, he is proud of his children, and he wants to tell others about them.
I thought about this a short time ago when I was considering how God feels about us, how He feels about me, and how He feels about all of His children. I often go through life thinking that God is generally displeased with me. I see my sin, I see my failings, and I see my heart. At the same time, I see from Scripture God’s majesty, His holiness, and His perfection. When I put these together, I believe that God must be looking at me with at least some level of disgust.
He must regard me as I regard myself so much of the time — as a person who may try to do what’s right but as a person who so often fails when it comes to holiness. Though I do love Him, and truly I do, I still have some love for sin. There is still some of the traitor in me. I pledge allegiance to Him but too often prove allegiance to myself. What could there be for Him to love here?
I’ve had this all wrong. As I study God’s Word day by day in the quiet of my home and week by week in my local church, and as I learn about who God is, I see that He is a proud Father who is lavish with His love. Maybe it was my studies in the parable of the prodigal son. Maybe it was my reading through the prophets, seeing how God hates sin but remains committed to His people. Maybe it was reading Hebrews 11, the Hall of Heroes, and seeing all of those great saints commended instead of condemned. Somehow along the way, I began to see that God hates my sin and commands me to mortify it, but that He loves me. God despises the evil that lurks within me but is extravagant in His grace. He actually, really, truly loves me. He doesn’t love me for who He wishes I could be but for who I am in Christ.
Maybe in that way God isn’t so different from the proud parents I see at conferences. Maybe in that way they are a reflection of their Creator. He loves us. He loves me. More than that, He’s proud of me. He isn’t petty, filling His mind with all those things I’ve done wrong, but rather He is gracious, seeing all those evidences of His grace in my life. Somehow I had lost sight of the fact that God truly does regard me as a child, His child, a child He not only loves but one He genuinely likes. And there’s a difference between the two, isn’t there?