The death of Jesus allows us to look into our Judge’s face and see a Bridegroom. This is the heart of the good news, the gospel: Jesus has been punished for our sins so that the floodgate of God’s affection can be loosed on us like a healing river! He died that we might dance.
I’ve just finished reading Objects of His Affection by Scotty Smith. As an extended meditation on how our hearts can become alive to the compelling love of God, the book is a perfect complement to my recent reflections about being God’s beloved. Smith explores why we can have such a hard time really experiencing God’s love, taking his personal story as the prism.
Chapter by chapter, he reveals the fallout in his life after his mother died in a car accident when he was 11. In the years that followed, she became a taboo subject in the family. In high school, he began to follow Jesus but there was a gap between his knowledge of God’s love and his experience of it.
Two things started to define Smith more than the fact that he was God’s beloved: his busy, noisy heart, and that he hadn’t dealt with his mother’s death. As a result, God’s love was blocked in his life, both to him, and through him to others. The result was detachment, busyness, withdrawal, passivity, fear, coupled with an arrogant, wordy spirituality [that’s not a typo– wordy is exactly the word Smith uses].
“A wall of self-protection, a commitment to controlling my world, and a lifestyle of staying busy took over. For the next season of life, theological knowledge and ministry became a substitute for learning how to relate to people and to love well.”
But God continued to love him. Smith discovered that “in the theater of His word, through the care of friends, by the pain of suffering, with the help of all kinds of allies, God pursues and calls to us.” It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually Smith was able to face his mother’s death, talking to his brother and father about her. As a result, an obstacle to accepting love and loving well was removed from his heart.
I was especially interested to read this book because Smith’s story parallels my own in many ways. Though I was only a baby when my mother died, I too grew up carrying an unknown loss, and then came to Jesus and had a deep experience of God’s comforting love. I easily took on the view that because Jesus was now living in me, everything would be wonderful. But there was a large part of me that remained closed off. No one–myself, God, family, friends, was allowed to open that door. Like Smith, I eventually came to a crisis point and discovered that carrying the unacknowledged burden of my mother’s death for so many years had warped and deformed my heart. First came spiritual and emotional surgery, then reconstruction. The healing did not happen overnight, and it often seemed more painful than the pain I hadn’t allowed myself to feel. But I didn’t do this on my own and I like the analogy Smith uses about God’s approach to repairing the sorry condition of our souls:
“To be a Christian is to be accepted by God on the basis of the tarp of his righteousness,which he graciously places over us in Christ,
not on the basis of our efforts to reconstruct or remodel our own lives or even the degree to which the project has progressed.
In fact, God doesn’t only provide the tarp, he is the whole construction team,
actively working in our hearts to make us more and more like Jesus.”
As God continued to work in me, His love began to transform the broken places in me. His instruments for healing included friends and family and a wise therapist. I look back now many years later truly amazed at the changes that have resulted in my life. There’s been a domino effect of grace. One experience of God’s mercy has lead to the next.
As Smith says, “As our heart gets unstuck, the river of God’s grace and mercy can flow through it with greater ease and healing….we are redeemed to become conduits, not merely receptacles of God’s love and compassion…the whole point of the Christian life is to bring glory to God as more and more obstacles to loving well are removed from our hearts.”