It was another Wednesday night, and I thought our youth lesson on lust was going as planned. When I asked the girls’ group, “How do you struggle with lust?” I was expecting to hear stories about making out, porn, or sex. But their questions were about love and rejection from boys and dads. Will someone love me? How can I long for God’s love more than a boy’s love? What does it mean that God is my Father in light of my experiences with my dad?
As I heard their questions, my heart sank. I’ve experienced rejection myself, and I know how much it hurts. It’s one thing to be rejected for a job or university program—rejections from strangers who don’t know you. It’s another thing to be rejected by someone who chooses to remove his love after knowing who you really are.
Experiencing rejection led me to wonder about God’s love. Does God love me just because he has to, not because he actually likes me for who I am? Is God’s love personally for me, or is it a general love thrown out indiscriminately, like torn bread to fish in a pond? Am I only one step away from being rejected by God because of my sin?
My questions—and the girls’ questions—all deal with longing for love or dealing with loss of love. And the best remedy for both is grasping how God loves us as our Father. The best explanation of the Father’s love that I’ve ever read is John Owen’s On Communion with God. He presents it as an argument—God’s love isn’t a soft doctrine compared to more meaty theological topics. It’s a serious doctrine you must understand in your heart if you want to know God.
God’s love isn’t a soft doctrine compared to more meaty topics. It’s a serious doctrine you must understand in your heart if you want to know God.
There were two sections that affected me most: Owen’s proof of the Father’s love, and his description of our mutual love being based on delight.
He Loved You First
First, Owen aims to prove to believers that they have intimate communion with the Father—and that the Father wants them to know. When Christ said that “the Father himself loves you” (John 16:26–27), he meant:
Resolve of [this fact], that you may hold communion with him in it, and be no more troubled about it. [As for] the Father’s love, you can no way more trouble or burden him, than by your unkindness in not believing of it.
Owen repeatedly reminds us that the Father’s love is based on his free will and brings him glory; therefore, to treat him as if it depends on our performance is to reject this love. When you persist in your stubbornness and say that you can’t believe God loves you, remember:
This is the most preposterous course that possibly thy thoughts can pitch upon, a most ready way to rob God of his glory. “Herein is love,” saith the Holy Ghost, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first. . . . Now, thou wouldst invert this order, and say, “Herein is love, not that God loved me, but that I love him first.” This is to take the glory of God from him. . . . Lay down, then, thy reasonings; take up the love of the Father upon a pure act of believing, and that will open thy soul to let it out unto the Lord in the communion of love.
He Delights in You
Second, Owen teaches that instead of rejecting the Father’s love by not believing he loves us, we must receive his love and love him in return. Indeed, one of the most beautiful aspects of the Father’s love for us, and ours for him, is delight.
Commenting on Zephaniah 3:17, Owen explains that the Father’s delight is described as both silence and singing. It is silent in that it is “without repining, without complaint. This God doth upon the account of his own love, so full, so every way complete and absolute, that it will not allow him to complain of any thing in them whom he loves, but he is silent on the account thereof.” Far from ever removing his love, he invites us to rest in it.
The Father’s delight is also expressed in singing “as one fully satisfied in that object he hath fixed his love on.” Owen argues that in this passage, two Hebrew words are used for the concept of rejoicing—one denoting inward delight, which is joy in your heart, and one outward delight, something akin to “leap[ing], as men overcome with some joyful surprise.”
In response to anyone who fears Owen is leading us down the path of antinomianism by teaching that God’s love is given so freely and abundantly to people who still sin, Owen responds, “What then? Loves he his people in their sinning? Yes, his people—not their sinning. Alters he not his love towards them? Not the purpose of his will, but the dispensations of his grace,” so that he lovingly rebukes them for sin but never removes his love. He still is satisfied with us and delights in us.
Thus, the Father’s love toward us is “to rejoice with gladness of heart, to exult with singing and praise, [which] argues the greatest delight and complacency possible.” Similarly, for us to delight in God’s love is when “the soul gathers itself from all its wanderings, from all other beloveds, to rest in God alone—to satiate and content itself in him.”
Rest in His Love
Owen concludes with a practical exhortation to “eye the Father as love” in order to receive his love. Fixing one’s gaze on the loving Father means being mindful of his love. When you see a new aspect of God’s love, experience it in a new way, or are reminded of something you already knew, don’t let that moment slip by. Enjoy it with your whole self—mind, will, and affections—and in so doing embrace God in return. When you are led to think of the Father as an angry, unforgiving ruler you shouldn’t approach in prayer, remind yourself that this thought is most grievous to God and useful to Satan.
So make this resolution now: the next time you’re tempted to question the Father’s love for you after being rejected by others, rehearse the Puritan’s words:
If I have hatred in the world, I will go to where I am sure of love. Though all others are hard to me, yet my Father is tender and full of compassion: I will go to him, and satisfy myself in him. Here I am accounted vile, frowned on, and rejected; but I have honor and love with him, whose kindness is better than life itself.