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I love Hawaiian food. I love not wearing shoes (especially at the office). I love orange juice with extra pulp, Owl City (I know, just let me have this one), and that moment when you thread the traffic needle perfectly. I love my wife and kids— and I especially love when they sleep in, and I find a free second to begin the already overdue library book. I love the Bible, especially the hard-to-understand parts, and I love people who want to ask questions about God. And nachos… I especially love nachos.
When I hear that God loves me, one of the most prominent messages we hear about Him, I have to wonder: does God love me the way I love spam musubi and Hawaiian mac salad? Does He think about me the way I think about free reading time on Saturday morning? Or am I more on-level with the way I think about my three kids?
This is the third and final article addressing some of the biggest questions about God. So far, we’ve tackled the questions of God’s existence and his goodness. But let’s be honest—the question of how He feels about me (and you) just might be the most crucial of the lot. These are the brass tacks, so to speak. God could exist, He could even be good, but if I mean nothing to Him, he’d have no more impact over my life than a politician. The President, and the Governor of my state, both exist. And while they represent different political parties with diverging opinions, I genuinely believe they both want to do good. But they don’t know me. Heck, my city council representative doesn’t even know I exist. These people may exert a small bit of influence over my life, but they’ll never impact it the way a loving relationship—my wife, a good friend, a mentor—will. So the question we’re getting at: is God a politician, or does He genuinely care for me?
I’ve chewed on these God questions for years. I think I may have even learned a thing or two that could be helpful. But let me be perfectly clear: this final question has been the hardest for me. I’ve found compelling reasons to believe that God exists, and even through my own pain and doubts, I’ve found faith to believe that God is good. But the Creator of all space and time caring about me? A midwest dad who accidentally shrunk his wife’s new sweater in the dryer last night? The guy who, this morning, yelled a four-letter word on his way to work— at a church? He cares about that guy? His quirks and dreams, his faults and foibles, his merits and mediocrity? God cares about that? I’ll confess, for a long time, it was all a little hard to believe.
Funny thing, I didn’t even realize I felt this way until a few years ago. It was one of those quirks that gave it away. I noticed that when I prayed, in public or private, I always addressed God in plurals.
God, we thank you for this meal… Father, we really need your help… Jesus, we ask you to be with our friend…
Before you try to armchair psychoanalyze me, let me cut you off at the pass. This isn’t some kind of M. Night Shyamalan Split situation. I don’t have any dissociative identity issues or some trauma I’m hiding behind (keyword: hiding. Got plenty of trauma.).
As I look back on it now, it’s perfectly clear: my language was giving away the belief about God I’d unknowingly adopted. God existed. He was even good. But He didn’t care about me—at least, not personally.
I’d settled into a belief that God loved a we over a me. So when I talked to Him, I hid behind it. Maybe it was just insecurity, but I could wrap my mind around a God that loved the big picture. One that looked down on the whole world with compassion; that loved His people; that called creation good and still interacted with it to this day. I could jive with a God who loved groups. I could even understand why God would love you—look at you, you’re amazing! But would God really spot me in a crowd? Would He even want to?
In the past two articles, I introduced four filters that have led me to better discernment. Originally named “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” we’ve just taken to calling them the filters to avoid any connotations to math (you suck, math!). Those filters—Experience, Reason, History and Scripture—have been tools that have assisted me with clarity in decision-making, relationships, and around finding answers to these God questions.
But what about this one? Does the God who created black holes, and elephants, and deep-sea creatures we still haven’t discovered yet… does He really give a second thought to me? Let’s start with the filters.
As if anticipating that this might be hard for us to believe, the Bible hits this note time after time. It says that God created me on purpose (Psalm 139:13-16); that He cares enough to know the minutest details of my life (Matthew 10:29-31); that He will never leave or forsake me (Psalm 23); and that the surest sign of God’s love is the sacrifice of Jesus (Romans 5:8). One follower of Jesus, a man named John, cut right to the chase when he declared that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-10). We could keep going, but I think you get the picture.
History teaches me that the spiritual greats of the past certainly believed God cared for them on a deep and personal level. This love so motivated them that they pushed into unlikely territory, many of them giving up their very lives because they so deeply believed God cared for them. Again, there are more examples than we have space for, but a few that quickly come to mind: Moses standing up to the most powerful man on earth to rescue God’s people; hundreds of years later, Esther doing the same; early missionary Paul giving up his privilege as a member of the revered religious class in order to travel the Mediterranean world planting churches, and then languishing in jail for years. More recent examples include Harriet Tubman risking her life to bring people to freedom; Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maximillian Kolbe, who lost their lives standing up to the Third Reich; or Mother Teresa, who spent the bulk of her days loving the unlovable in Kolkata. These men and women were motivated by an unceasing belief that God actually cared for them.
On to reason, which tells me that if I believe what the Bible teaches about God’s purposeful creation, I’d do well to believe the same thing about myself: that God wouldn’t create something He didn’t care about. It points back to the last two paragraphs and says—you wrote that, and you believe it about other people, but you don’t believe it about yourself? Come on, Caleb. That doesn’t stand to reason.
Then on to experience, where it becomes increasingly obvious that God cares for me. On a macro level, I see it in the stage of human history I was born into. Despite our ills, it’s hard to argue there’s ever been a better time to be alive—from the relative peace of the nation where I live, to our modern conveniences and medicine. Less than 150 years ago, cars were a space-age dream— and I’ve wrecked or driven-into-the-ground more cars than most people in human history have ever owned. And all that’s even before I get into the specifics of my own life—the answered prayers for a family, a job where I actually get paid to do something I love, and surviving much more than my fair share of tire blowouts at highway speeds. I can’t disbelieve that God’s watchful eye has been on all over my life, like a much less-creepy version of Sauron.
All the filters pointed in the same direction. So why did I remain unconvinced? Why was I still hiding behind plurals when I prayed? The filters can get us on a path to better discernment, they can lead us right up to the gate of a beautiful garden, a place where we can personally commune with God, but they won’t open it. Only you… only I… can do that.
There’s intellectual knowledge (which is incredibly important, don’t get me wrong), but then there’s experiential knowledge. Understanding the love of God, and actually experiencing it in real life, are as different as reading a recipe, and actually taking a bite of that warm pecan pie. What I want for you, and what I had to do for myself, was pick up the fork. But I’ll be honest, it doesn’t come without risk.
Here’s the understanding I’ve come to in my own search for an answer to this God question:
You can’t be sure you’re loved until you’re known. You can’t be known until you’re honest. You can’t be honest without risk.
This is how human-to-human relationships work, right? Whether it’s the love between family members, close friends, or a romantic partner, it builds this way. You take a risk—ask them to coffee, share a hurt, be transparent—and the relationship builds. The more you’re honest with them, the more you’re known. How do you know you’re loved? The person sticks around. When you’ve had a bad day and unfairly take it out on them, they stay; when you haven’t talked to them for a month, they still answer on the first ring; when you shrink the new sweater she literally just bought and she shrugs it off because she knows you meant well (Just me? That’s cool.).
Let’s get one thing straight: loving, and being loved, it’s dangerous territory. It’s a risk that will leave bruises, if not some scars. We can all think back to times when we took a risk and got rejected; when we were honest and it was used against us; when we thought we were known only to be proven so wrong. Those pains are real, but so are the joys when it works the other way. When you take a risk on making a new friend and they’re excited to join you for lunch; when you share a personal story and the person on the other side of the table says “me too;” when you say “I’m sorry,” and they respond, “It’s okay.”
We’ve come a long way on this God Questions journey. I hope the four filters have led you down a path that’s gotten you to the gate of a garden where, I believe, you can actually meet with God. But you have to open it, and you have to choose to walk through.
Personally, I think God cares wildly for you—lightyears beyond anything any other human on this planet could muster. I think God smiles and breaks out into song when He considers you; I think He has hopes and plans for your life that exceed your wildest expectations. The things I feel when I look at my kids—that’s what God feels when He looks at you. The joy I have when they discover something new, have a fun day at school, or kick the winning goal at soccer—God has that same joy over you. The feelings He feels about Jesus, His perfect son, are the same feelings He has for you, his imperfect son or daughter. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true, at least if scripture is to be trusted (1 Peter 5:7; Zephaniah 3:17; 1 John 3:1; John 17:23).
All that being said, you won’t experience that love and care and devotion until you take a risk on Him; until you’re honest; until you allow yourself to be known by Him. (Yes, theology nerds, God already knows everything about us. But relationships level-up when we choose to be forthcoming & we want to be known. That’s all I’m saying.)
I began to lose the plurals in my prayers when I took a risk on God. I’d acquired plenty of intellectual knowledge about Him growing up. Heck, I’d even taught others about Him. But I’m not sure I’d ever pushed all my chips in (the poker kind, not the potato). About the time I realized I’d been hiding behind plurals, I got brutally honest with God. I asked hard questions and bared parts of my soul I’d never brought out into the open before. Why had my wife and I suffered at the hands of the church before we got married? Why didn’t we have kids yet, after trying and trying? Why did I experience sexual abuse as a teen? Why did I see so much brokenness in the world? Why was it hard to connect with Him? Why?
In that brutal honesty, I was changed. It was the end of me being passively known by God, and the beginning of me being personally known. All relationships thrive on give-and-take. A marriage that starts off amazingly will quickly turn into a roommate situation when authenticity, sharing emotions, or taking risks on each other is put on the back-burner. Why would the same not be true about God? Being passively known by God is resemblant of a relationship happening to you. Society agrees, forced intimacy is a crime. On the other hand, consensual intimacy, two parties choosing to know and be known, can be one of the most beautiful experiences in all of life.
God is a gentleman. He doesn’t force His way in. He doesn’t demand your time, attention, or honesty. But He does want it. He wants to hear from you. He wants to be bet on.
When I got brutally honest with God, a dividing wall came down between us. I was the one that had built it out of bricks like assumptions and expectations. I assumed God already knew my feelings, so I didn’t need to tell Him. I thought He expected me to have it all together, to smile and keep going. I assumed I was just a little cog in His big machine and I didn’t matter all that much anyway.
My family spends a lot of time outdoors, so it’s rather inconvenient (that’s putting it nicely) that my young son has recently developed an overwhelming fear of bees. He’s so afraid of being stung that he’d rather stay inside than go to the playground, try out the new hiking trail, or help me in the garden. His fear of being hurt had been actively stopping him from enjoying life to its full potential. And he wasn’t honest about it.
Just last week, our family was getting ready to go visit a park we love when he came around the corner in tears. Sitting him down to talk, my wife and I heard him make every excuse he could think of: I can’t find my favorite shoes; I’m afraid my siblings won’t have a good time; I’m scared that the slide might be too tall. We patiently waited and then finally asked. “Are you sure you’re not scared because of bees?” You could see the wheels turning in his mind as he considered hiding the truth again. Then he gave in & admitted it, fell into my wife’s arms, and got honest.
We knew it was the bees the whole time. But he couldn’t move forward until he admitted the truth to himself, and to us. He couldn’t be comforted, encouraged, or even truly loved the way he needed in that moment until he chose honesty. To make a long story short: we reassured him, we encouraged him to be bold, and we prayed. We went to the park, even saw a bee or two, and still had a great time.
You can’t be sure you’re loved until you’re known. You can’t be known until you’re honest. You can’t be honest without risk.
My risk was bringing God my hurts, doubts, and hard questions. And believe it or not, I actually got some answers. None came written across the sky or with a voice that boomed like thunder, but they were answers just the same.
Some came through conversations with trusted friends. Others through an impression or thought that seemed to come from outside of myself. Others from scripture, or music, or nature. The more I asked—took a risk and got honest—the more wilfully known by God I became. As I became known, so did He. His care and love for me as an individual created in His image, started to show up all over my life, even the pain points. It was like a Polaroid coming into focus. It didn’t happen all at once—and, yes, there are still corners of the photo that are fuzzy—but it was there nonetheless. Everything the filters of scripture, reason, experience and history told me to believe started to reveal themselves in dazzling colors. I’d dared to open the gate and step foot into the garden of God… and it was good.
Your brain will only get you so far. Intellectual arguments are great, but they aren’t everything. If you really want to know if God cares for you, you’re going to have to act on it.
You can’t know if you’re loved until you’re truly known. You can’t be truly known until you’re brutally honest. You can’t be brutally honest without risking something.
I’ve risked it. It was terrifying, yes, but the end results changed my life.
What would taking a risk on God look like for you? Maybe it’s asking a question you never verbalized before? Maybe it’s getting real about the pain you’ve felt and where He was in that situation? Maybe it’s stepping foot into counseling? Maybe it’s finally daring to speak to Him as if He’s actually listening—speaking for yourself and no one else? Only you know the risk you need to take. Need a hint? It’s probably the thing you feel in your gut right now, the thing you don’t want to do.
Does God care about you? I know my answer. He doesn’t think about me the way I think about nachos or even my kids. It’s well beyond that—larger and more complete than I could ever hope to comprehend.
But you didn’t come here for my answer. You came to find your own. And there’s only one sure way to find out how God feels about you. Take a risk. Be honest. Be known— and in so doing, come to know.
You have two choices. Open the gate, and walk into His garden. Or turn around, and live the rest of your life wondering what you’d have found if you did.