Genesis 2:25 may seem a strange launching point for a discourse on divine love. But bear with me.
The writer of Genesis says of God’s freshly created male and female human prototypes: "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (Gen. 2:25).1 What an amazing description: Nothing to hide. Total openness. No concerns about inadequacy. No danger of being judged negatively.
Unfortunately, this idyllic picture evaporates when the original pair partake of the forbidden fruit. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened,“ the Bible says, “and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (Gen. 3:7).
Remember, Adam and Eve had been naked from the beginning. But with sin comes guilt and shame. They now face the frightening specter of judgment.
Not only have they questioned how much God truly loves them by indulging in what he has forbidden, they now question whether he’ll deal compassionately with them, granted what they’ve done.
They seek their own solution. Yet they recognize immediately that the fig-leaf façades they've thrown together are useless in restoring what they've lost. So they hide.
We read: "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen. 3:8).
The promise of the serpent was that they could be like God. The idea appealed. Why remain a mere human when a status so much higher seems within reach? Having attempted to attain God-status, they continue acting as if they’re God.
Let's see, they reason, if we were God, how would we react if our created beings did what we've just done? And realizing what they’d do, they dash for the woods. At least, that’s how I imagine it.
God finally coaxes the guilt-ridden, shame-filled couple out of hiding and hears their confession about being afraid because of their nakedness. His comment is instructive: "'Who told you that you were naked?'" (Gen. 3:11). I read his words to mean: “Am I chastising you about your appearance? Have I complained?”
Remember, God came to Adam and Eve as he always had. The change was in them, not in him. They ran. He pursued. Their offspring likewise have run ever since. He has continued to pursue. Relentlessly.
Which brings us to why this story is such an appropriate launching point for a discussion of divine love. The ultimate goal of God’s love, in addition to securing our salvation eternally, is to remove our fearin the here and now. God wants to restore us to something akin to the absolute sense of security that existed in Eden.
In 1 John 4:1618, we read:
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
The primary basis for this absence of fear is the love demonstrated by Jesus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. " (John 3:16). Jesus showed that God is a God of grace, not of vengeance. When we look at the actions of Jesus, we glimpse the character of God (John 14:9).
Jesus declared that the most dramatic manifestation of love is to die for one’s friends (John 15:13). But he went even further: he died for us while we were still his enemies (Rom. 5:10).
When we see Jesus saying to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, go and leave your life of sin” (John 8: 11); when we hear Jesus declare to Nicodemus that his objective is to save, not to condemn (John 3:17); when we hear Jesus promising that “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37); when we see Jesus praying for his persecutors, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34); when we encounter all of this and much, much, much more, we’re seeing practical, tangible and confidence-building evidences of the magnitude of God’s love for usa love that truly casts out fear.
But I’d suggest there’s another aspect to how love banishes fear. Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34, 35). In fact, in much the same way that he was sent into the world to show what the Father is like, we’ve been given a similar assignment (John 17:18). But here’s the real challenge: John says we’ll have confidence to face God on the day of judgment “because in this world we are like him” (1 John 4:17, emphasis mine).
It seems John is suggesting that demonstrations of divine love aren’t the sole basis for the Christian’s judgment-day confidence. It seems he’s saying also that when we as Christ’s followers are loving, caring, understanding, and non-condemnatorywhen “we are like him”the sense of safety and security that characterized Eden can to a great degree be restored “in this world.” When Christ’s followers also demonstrate such God-like love, it’s not hard to believe God can and will accept us.
One more thing: Jesus said the same measuring device we use to dish it out will be used to dish it back (Luke 6:38). So, if “in this world we are like him” (that is, if our goallike that of Christis to save, not to condemn), we can be sure that God will deal with us in similar fashion. Thus there’s no need to fear.
Love’s ultimate goal isn’t just about legal transactions. It’s about heart transformations and relationships. It’s about absolute assurance of a divine Father who can be trusted.
Notes and References
1. All scriptural quotations are from the New International Version.
James Coffin is senior pastor of the Markham Woods Church, in Longwood, Florida.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1532