God is Love — God is not an Enabler
“God is love.” This statement, which is indeed Biblical, constituted a friend’s rationalization for his decision to leave his family and pursue a life defined by both direct sinful behavior and a general pursuit of what he claimed made him happy and satisfied in life. “I believe God loves all His children,” he told me. I had to agree with him, but as I mulled over his comments to me I realized that for my friend, ‘love’ meant that God cared nothing about his behavior or how he lived his life. To him, God was a sentimental entity whose whole purpose was my friend’s happiness. His view of God’s love had little to do with his welfare, safety or security. His loving ‘god’ was content to offer sentimental platitudes while my friend walked in a way of destructive behavior ripe with potential negative consequences. My friend confused love with enabling. And while God is indeed love, God is NOT an enabler!
My friend is not the only person using God’s love as a license to create false boundaries and to redefine Godly living and behavior. Love is used as an excuse for all forms of wrong behavior — including everything from sexual immorality to idolatry to gossip to materialism to greed to divorce. But when we think about the true character of love as described by God Himself, and the true nature of God’s fatherly love over us, we see that true love is never content to sit idly by while the objects of love move into dangerous waters. God’s love of us is not a license for destructive behavior. God’s love for us is the fountain out of which flows his discipline of us, His care for us, and His desire for us to experience all the fullness of a life lived in relationship with Him.
As a dad, some of these concepts have become more tangible to me. I think about how Stephanie and I love our kids, and how we will do everything we can to train them to live life in a way that we believe will bring them the fullest joy. We want them to have fun, but there are real boundaries to the fun that we will allow them to have. Many of these boundaries cramp their style, and many times they have no comprehension of why they cannot do certain things and why they must do other things. In fact, most days my kids would describe fun and happiness as including lots of junk food, lots of TV, unlimited computer time and little sleep. But our boundaries have purpose. We make them go to bed early because we know that they need rest. We make them eat certain foods and prohibit other foods because we know their young bodies need certain things and do not need others. We limit their screen time and oversee what they watch because we know their minds need to be protected from things that can damage their young hearts and minds. We make them do their homework because we know they need to learn. They are subject to consequences for certain behaviors because we know they need to learn how to behave in order to function well in society.
Many times our children protest aspects of the way Stephanie and I parent them. “Why can’t I stay up later?” “Why can’t I watch that show?” “Why can’t I drink that or eat that or why do I have to eat this?” “What is the big deal about doing that?” Our explanations do not always — ok, our explanations rarely — placate them. But their understanding of our parenting does not dictate how we parent. We lead them in the way we believe is best for their lives not just today, but way down the road as they move towards adulthood. We, in all of our human fallibility, parent them, and restrict them and discipline them ultimately because we love them so very much. Their present happiness is not our primary concern because we know that their ultimate joy may require some immediate discomfort. We love them too much to release them to their own desires before they are ready. We train them in life because we love them too much to throw them to the wolves. And just like we protect and discipline and train our children, God protects, disciplines and trains us. And he does that because he loves us. This is the love that defines God.
Hebrews 12 contains an amazing description and explanation of the way and purpose in God’s discipline of His children. It reminds us that just as any loving father disciplines his children, so God disciplines US, the children He loves beyond comprehension. In fact, it says that if we are not disciplined, we are not really His children! The author of Hebrews is wise to note that human fathers are limited by their humanity, but God’s discipline of us is always true, always right, always purposeful and always for our good. We are also reminded that discipline, by definition, is not easy and ‘for the moment’ seems painful rather than pleasant. But God’s discipline always yields the ‘peaceful fruit of righteousness’ to those who have been trained by it.
God’s purpose in discipline is to cause our lives to reflect the ‘peaceful fruit of righteousness.’ Said another way, God’s purpose for our lives is holiness. He knows that our greatest joy comes in a life set apart for him. We may train our children for different things based on our own lives and desires, but God’s purpose never changes.
We are often like children. We read God’s instruction for our lives and we question Him. “Why can’t I do that?” “What is wrong with that?” “But I really want to do that!” “That won’t hurt me!” And sometimes we lash out at God by questioning His love for us, and by wishing He was nicer and less strict. But God’s ways are perfect, and are beyond our comprehension just like our ways are often beyond our kids’ comprehension. He knows best, and He IS love, and it is His love of us that spurs His discipline, His direction, and His perfect boundaries. And just like we as human parents must sometimes do with our own children, so also God sometimes simply allows us do what we want to do, and releases us to face the consequences that he hoped we would avoid.
The comparison between us as God’s children and us as parents of our own children breaks down in one significant way. At some point, our children will grow to a place of independence and we will lose our right to discipline them. They will grow up into adulthood, and the roles may even reverse between us as they grow older and as we grow older. But we never grow to a place of independence as God’s children. He is always our parent, and always has authority over us, and we are always fully dependent on Him. And when we rest in His perfect love over us, that place of dependence is a very safe place.
Proverbs 3:11–12 says “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” When we use God’s love as a license to live by our own rules, we are essentially despising His discipline and actually turning away from the very love we are claiming. But when we submit to His truth, even though we feel strongly about something or really want to do something other than what He is telling us to do, we truly experience the fullness of His love. We then ‘taste and see’ that the Lord is good. And, someday, we will look back, like we hope our kids will do someday, and we will see His purposes, and we will thank Him for reigning us in. And we will be grateful that God did not enable us to do things that would have caused us heartache down the road. And then we will see the reality that God truly IS love.