When I turned fifty in December, my wife gave me one of the best gifts I have ever received. She arranged for fifty different messages to come to me on my birthday, each one expressing a different reason why she was glad I was born.
Her creativity, and raw work, touched me deeply.
I am the first one up in the mornings, and by the coffee maker was my first note. I then proceeded to find them in my car, on my desk, on the bathroom mirror; they were delivered by mail, email, and video; our four children each had a scheduled time to call and say, “I’m number ____.”
By the end of the day, I had accumulated fifty reasons why my wife was glad I was born.
I never felt so loved.
But perhaps more importantly, I never felt so liked.
She spelled out things that were deeply personal, incredibly specific, and very much, well, me.
And to each, she said, “For this reason, I am glad you were born.”
By the time I got to #50, I was a wreck. I didn’t know how deeply something like this would move me, and how much I needed to hear it.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this is one of the most overlooked, but important, apologetic messages for the world:
“God not only loves you, He likes you.”
Most, at least in the West, have heard rumors of God’s love. Even that His love somehow resulted in Him dying for us. But it’s all words, jargon, cliché. They ricochet off of people’s ears like an overplayed ad on TV.
They still feel condemned, judged, rejected.
Why is that?
I think it’s because we’ve communicated God’s love, but not God’s “like.” What’s missing is a sense of God’s acceptance. But not just acceptance, but joy in our existence. I’m not even sure many Christians feel this way.
I remember when Sally Field won her second Oscar. At the podium she said, “You like me! You really, really like me!” Her exultations reminded me that this “like” is often more compelling than “love.”
It’s simple. Most of us feel that love can be forced, dutiful, or obedient, whereas “like” is selective, choice oriented, and more based on who I am. You can love someone and not like them, but it is almost impossible to like them and not love them. When you are liked, the love can be assumed; when you are simply told you are loved, the “like” remains in question.
Yes, I know, some will instantly fear that such a simple message might diminish the needed sense of sin and depravity, God’s holiness and justice, and our need for repentance.
Most people I engage are keenly aware of the state of their life. They know they are far from God, know that they are not living the way they should, and want to do something about it. They may not have a theological sophistication about it, or a biblical foundation for clarifying it, but it is present in their soul.
It’s called the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
But they don’t think they can turn to God because that means turning to condemnation.
Philip Yancey tells a story about a friend of his who works with the down-and-out in Chicago. A prostitute came to him in about as bad a shape as you can be. She was homeless, her health was failing, and she wasn't able to buy any food for her two-year-old daughter. With tears streaming down her face, she confessed that she had been renting out her daughter to men in order to support her drug habit.
Yancey's friend could hardly bear to hear the details. He sat in silence, not even knowing what to say.
In the end, he asked her if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. He said that he would never forget the look of pure astonishment that crossed her face.
"Church! Why would I ever go there! They'd just make me feel even worse than I already do!"
Do you want to hear the radical message of the gospel that the world does not seem to hear, much less believe?
God doesn’t just love that prostitute, He likes her. If she knew it, she might just turn to Him and repent.
A lot of people might.
I’ve often wondered how Jesus could stand for (and model) absolute holiness, yet the sinners, thieves, prostitutes, tax collectors, drunkards and more all wanted to be with Him. Even have Him come to their parties.
It wasn’t because He compromised.
Or watered down His teaching.
Or refused to call for life-change.
I think it was because they knew he not only loved them,
…but liked them.
James Emery White
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.
See also anything by Brennan Manning, particularly The Ragamuffin Gospel and The Furious Longing for God.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.