Recently, a friend of mine was sharing a struggle about questioning the reality of how God could love her. Not – how could God love people? – but – how could God love me? That’s an important difference.
At some point in the life of a believer of Jesus, you have to wrestle with the idea of Jesus dying for you. And you’ll almost absolutely revisit that throughout your life because of how your spiritual environment evolves.
I remember at the end of 2017, I was feeling very depressed. Not just bummed out or tired from the day but, like, existentially exhausted and afraid that I had gone too far to make a comeback.
At the beginning of that December, I read through 1 Samuel to revisit how Saul and David became the first kings of Israel. I don’t remember searching for something specific but what I found crushed my spirit almost entirely.
In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is reprimanded for how he disobeys the Lord’s orders, which were basically: fight the Amalekites, destroy everything and everyone, leave no survivors – not even the livestock. Verse 9 of that chapter says, “But Saul and the army spared Agag [the king] and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs – everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.”
Yikes. After a reprimand from Samuel, his advisor/prophet/wise counsel, several heartfelt and well-meant apologies, and the execution of the king that should’ve died earlier, this is what we learn:
Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
– 1 Samuel 15:35
WOW. Read that again. The Lord regretted making Saul king. I cower under disappointment, but learning that the Creator of everything was disappointed in my performance? That would gut me.
And it did. Because the Lord had moved his hand of favor from Saul to David, I convinced myself that this was a sign that God had moved his favor from me to someone else. Almost like he didn’t feel like I was up for the job – whatever that job was!
I had inwardly been panicking about this for several weeks, so I tried to casually ask a coworker an important question: Can you ever lose favor with God?
My wise friend answered, “I think we need to define ‘favor’ before we can answer that.”
The answer wasn’t found in a Merriam-Webster, but in the truth of what we believe about God. Yes, Saul had done wrong. And like so many others in the Old Testament, they experienced a wrathful God who acted fiercely when sins were not atoned for through appropriate sacrifice. But that did not mean God didn’t love them anymore.
After Samuel told Saul that God had rejected him as king over Israel, Saul finally understood what it meant:
Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back to me, so that I may worship the Lord.”
– 1 Samuel 15:24-25
So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshipped the Lord.
– 1 Samuel 15:31
My coworker and I decided that “favor” and “love” (in God’s definition of love) were synonymous. Why? Because God created you to worship him. He loved you from the beginning and he’s never going to stop. Favor, I think especially in Saul’s instance, has a lot to do with the divine appointment of kings. The people of Israel begged God for a king and God refused and refused until he told Samuel to find and anoint a proper king. From that moment until Saul’s final disobeying act, Saul had God’s favor as the earthly leader of Israel.
Bad judgment calls happen, but just because we mess up doesn’t mean that God loves us any less. In the verses above, Saul begged just to worship the Lord again. He knew he had done wrong and all he wanted was to praise his Creator, knowing that it would not lessen his consequences.
Here’s the best part: Jesus! I can make a pretty strong assumption that you know Him, follow Him, or have at least heard His name before. But do you understand what He did for us?
Not only did He die on a cross, bearing all of our sins – He did so because God knew that there was never going to be a way for humans to become 100% blameless in his eyes. Not a single chance. And because God knew that if he didn’t do something we would all lose favor with him, God loved us enough to send his only Son to die for us.
So, if you’re struggling with understanding exactly God’s level of love for you, know this: there is always a way home for you. You will never go too far. You will have your vineyards back again. And while you should mourn and ask Jesus for forgiveness, know that you’ve already got it.
Fight that voice in your head that tells you to keep running. Fight the opinions of others while you do it. Accept the consequences, learn from the mistakes, and believe that you are free.
Everybody loves a comeback, right?