“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? …Incline your ear, and come to me; Hear, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:2,3)
Parents these days, so the narrative goes, are increasingly willing to indulge their children’s every whim in order to avoid even the briefest moments of unhappiness or discomfort. Observation bears this out…mostly.
One can still observe, however, that even the most lenient, discipline-shy parent recognizes at least a few areas in which children must trust their elders, regardless of whether or not their young minds have grasped the reasoning for certain restrictions. Among parents who claim to love their children, I have never witnessed a child allowed to:
- Eat nothing but M&Ms for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Wander unaccompanied through a crowded amusement park.
- Play in traffic.
Extreme examples, of course, but here’s the bottom line: even the most permissive adults realize that children, left to themselves, will not always make decisions that are in their best interests. Love does not equate to the desire that its object be happy at all times; rather, it means wanting what is best for the beloved.
We see this in other relationships as well. One friend may counsel another against a romantic relationship that seems exciting, yet shows signs of being destructive or dangerous. In marriage, an elderly husband or wife will urge an ailing spouse to take a daily walk — despite resistance, grumbling, and even insults — in order to maintain what remains of the loved one’s health.
Real love, in other words, can be tough to receive…and to give it, therefore, requires courage. For those who have watched loved ones choose destructive paths in the pursuit of fulfillment and “following one’s heart,” it can be heartbreaking to see that love rejected — even scorned.
God, the Creator of the earth, whose love exceeds our comprehension, knows well the rejection of seeing wayward children despise His instruction and seek satisfaction apart from His perfect will. Indeed, that lack of trust is what prompted Adam and Eve to spurn His fatherly love, choosing instead to indulge their pride and the sudden discontent that the serpent had planted in their hearts.
‘Does God really love you?’ the serpent whispered. ‘If He does, why won’t He let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn’t want you to be happy.’
…And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God’s children: ‘God doesn’t love me.’ *
Today, the lie persists. It whispers into the hearts of believers wrestling with doubt, and to non-believers who consider it just one more reason to reject Christianity. “If God really loves me, then why doesn’t He let me do whatever I want?” is the plaintive cry.
Ah, but it is just because He loves us that He has given us limits. We resist these limits and cry “unfair,” but our heavenly Father knows that, when one of His children pursues desires outside of His perfect design, heartache will eventually come. We may feel fulfilled and happy at first, but — sooner or later — we will realize that satisfaction apart from God is hollow and fleeting.
For some reason, we struggle to accept this. Even as we strive to teach our own children, and grieve when they resist what we know to be best, we turn right around and tell God that He’s not the boss of us and He can’t tell us how to live our lives. We fool ourselves into thinking that love — at least, Heavenly love — means allowing us to do whatever we feel will bring us happiness.
My own heart aches when I see people rejecting God because His ways seem unloving and His restrictions seem burdensome. It aches, too, when I see the same tendency in myself. God’s way is not a path of unalloyed pleasure and constant gratification, but His way is the only one that brings true joy. If only we would take to heart the words of Jesus, spoken so long ago:
*from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones