Father Iain McKillop
It would seem impossible to love and trust a force we cannot see. Yet, like many of faith, I’ve learned to trust and love God. This isn’t naïve credulity, susceptibility or emotionalism, as critics of belief sometimes claim. I’m not naturally trusting but my trust of God has grown through experience.
Usually one can give reasons for loving someone: their appearance, character, things they do, who they are. The more we know someone, the more we find to love; even difficult characteristics can become endearing. In loving relationships, initial emotional or physical attraction develops into genuine selfless love and trust. Sometimes this takes years. In relationship with God our trust and love also take time to grow.
I could give reasons for my belief in God but none can ‘prove’ their truth. The more we try to understand God, the more we realise we do not know and can never prove. Despite all Scripture reveals about God, God is mystery. But we can appreciate:
- Power, beauty and order behind God’s Creation.
- Intuitively we may sense that God values us.
- We may sense God reaching out to us, loving, protecting and caring about us.
- We may sense God’s involvement in our life.
- We may recognise wisdom and truth behind Scriptures’ teachings.
- Above all we can recognise in Jesus, truths and love that reveal aspects of God.
These and many more contribute to my trust and love of God. But my proofs for God won’t be the same as yours, and certainly aren’t enough evidence to convince sceptics. Great orators and apologists from Ambrose to Billy Graham seem to have managed to persuade people into faith by argument. As a student, keen to understand my new-found Christian faith, I devoured Josh McDowell’s ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ and Frank Morison’s ‘Who Moved the Stone’, convinced that if we could prove God, we might persuade others to believe and receive God’s gift of Salvation. Sadly belief rarely comes that easily! In few has faith developed logically, in any set order. We can’t argue people into belief. St Paul recognised that faith seems “foolishness” to some, while others become convinced of its “wisdom” [1 Cor.1:23]. We’re not clones: different people fall in love for different reasons. Similarly, people become attracted to God through varying paths. Identical ways of believing and growing would make our world and Church boring! Ultimately true faith grows through God’s Holy Spirit persuading people. Our Christian responsibility is to present Christ’s Gospel as rationally and attractively as possible, avoiding stumbling-blocks that might prevent others from believing.
I initially came to commit myself to the Christian faith through watching true Christians who radiated his love and peace. I wanted the joy and truth they’d found. My own faith and relationship with God learned from theirs. That’s how Church should work. People around us are more likely to be convinced if they see faith and love for God truly bringing us alive and being outgoing, not selfish. Christians who live winsomely can attract people to come to find life-giving faith themselves.
I learned to ‘trust’ then ‘love’ God, as my life tested the truth of what I’d found. Love grew through realising that God cares for me and sacrifice himself for my good. For much of my life I’ve suffered from a low self-image, which marred my ability to believe that God could possibly love me. I recognised that God’s love for everyone and for Creation was emphasised throughout Scripture. I admired others, so I could easily recognise that God loves them unconditionally. But I couldn’t apply such love to myself. Logic said that God must also love me equally, yet I wasn’t convinced; I saw myself as unattractive, sinful, failing to live up to God’s expectations. I thought of God as the sort of father whose child is never good enough for them, who regularly points out how they aren’t as good as others. Christ’s story of the father’s love for the Prodigal Son [Lk.15:11-32] demonstrates a different type of parenthood. His father values and cares for all, however weak, strong, obedient or faithless, searches for us and welcomes us, ready to forgive and restore. That’s true love, just as in genuine relationships a loved-ones’ failings can be endearing, and we show love by forgiving.
I learned to trust and love God by learning to love and be loved. I finally accepted that God loves me when I recognised that another person loved me unconditionally. Being loved by someone convinced me that God could love me. Sinful, weak or failing, as many of us are, we are lovable. If we want our churches to grow, Christians should learn greater love for others and express and demonstrate it openly. Words are not enough; we need to show it. When our community and visitors see that we love them unconditionally, as Christ loves us, this may help them recognise that God loves them.
The Shorter Westminster Confession said that our “chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever”. I prefer the phrase that our chief aim is to ‘be’ as God intended us to be and to ‘become’ what he intended us to become. In becoming our true selves we glorify God and can grow to enjoy and trust his caring presence with us. None can ever live up to Christ’s high expectation: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matt.5:48]. But we can allow God to transform and purify us as we grow in relationship with him. God doesn’t just see our failings; he knows what Christ’s redemption and the gift of his Spirit can make us. We need to allow him to form us into Christians worthy of the love God already gives us.
True love and trust can survive difficult circumstances. Many biblical figures fluctuated between feeling distant from God then recognising God’s love. Through Jeremiah’s hard life he heard God’s message: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” [31:3]. I’ve experienced how Christ’s constant love can stabilise people, enabling spiritual and emotional growth, in which we truly learn ‘to love and trust a God we cannot see’. In times of isolation such as this our thoughts often turn onto ourselves. Let’s use this time to consider how much we understand of God and how we can follow and reflect him more truly.