While our Host Daughter was here, we shared the gospel with her. She informed us that she had heard about how Jesus loved her enough to die on a cross for her sins but that she didn't believe it. But she did not discuss the subject any further than that. During a car ride from Charlotte, the subject came up with Cava. I asked him about the missionaries coming to visit the boarding school, how they showed the Jesus film, and shared the gospel of God's love to the kids. I asked Cava if he heard that and believed that God loved him.
"No," he replied, "because if He did why was I there?"
While his response did not surprise me, it cut me deep. I mean it makes sense: Why believe in a loving God when no one else around you is loving or cares for you?
"Do you believe that God loves you now?" I asked.
"Because you prayed and God brought you to Ukraine to adopt me."
Cava knows God loves him because of the love he's experienced since he's been here and he sees the love of God through people. It's a daily encounter with love.
God's love is relentless, is ever-reaching, is a pursuing, intense love. It's a radical tenderness. I've been reading through the Old Testatment prophets and it's been a real hootenanny, especially as I wrestle and struggle with the will of God and trying to understand. Reading the prophets, like much of the Bible, has been less comforting and more confronting. Yet there, amidst all the doom on Jerusalem, I came across this line in Zephaniah 3:17, " . . .he will quiet you by his love . . ." Not exactly a line one expects from a prophet, but there it was. Immediately, my mind conjured up a mother going to her wailing baby during the night, to hold and comfort the infant. Isaiah also presents this mothering image of God when he wrote, "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you . . ." or "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?"
While people talk of God's love, they tend to see it as a gentle, Mr. Rogers' kindness than the love portrayed in the Bible. No, scripture shows that God's love is more like the powerful, raging falls of Iguaza where there are 275 waterfalls, including one that reaches a height of 269 feet. It is twice as tall as Niagra. 1,500 cubic meters of water fall per second. During the rainy season, 13,000 cubic meters of water falls per second. This kind of love is more like what Rich Mullins describes when he sings about being "caught in the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God." That is an intense love of a storm that sweeps one up and away and drowns us in it. It's the kind of love that neither height nor the depths of hell can escape. It's the kind of love that causes a father to not be ashamed to run, embrace and kiss his prodigal son who is covered in and reeks of the muck of pig pens. Jesus even addresses his Father as "Abba" or "Papa," a very loving and intimate title.
But how do children who either do not know their parents or, worse, have very negative memories of their mother or father then begin to understand the love of a God who is shown as both mother and father?
The theologian Jean Vanier wrote, "To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth, their importance." God has done this to a violent degree. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . ." Yet for the orphan, those are just words. Empty and hollow as they feel inside. They have no context. Many of them can only identify father or mother with neglect, abuse, and rejection. These kids don't understand an unwavering love that accepts them as they are but does not leave them that way.
Cava still has trouble accepting our love. He has been with us just over two years and he is only now, slowly, seeing that our love is not an elevator love that goes up and down depending on his behavior. Oh, Cava had a bad day, love goes down. Hey! Cava had a great day, love goes up. That is not love. But the love we offer him is frail and a pale comparsion to the unconditional love of God. Yet for him to begin to comprehend that love, which is something most of us cannot do, he first had to see it mirrored in people. He had to see that our love was reliable before he could even start the process of accepting that God's love was even more so.
In his book The Furious Longing of God, Brennan Manning wrote, "The revolutionary thinking that God loves me as I am and not as I should be requires radical thinking and profound emotional readjustment."
It is very much like a child being adopted into a family. The adopted child struggles with self-acceptance, with being loved because they don't feel lovable, that they have worth and value. They see their pasts, their hurts, their deep wounds, the rejection, loss, fears, and say, "You can't possibly love me." They will often fight against the very love they long for. Love has to continously come back again and again to overcome that rejection. Both Cava and our host daughter have responded to my statement, "I love you," with, "No love you." They were both stunned with my responding back with, "That's okay. You don't have to love me because I still love you." This kind of love is frightening to them because it is unfamiliar and strange. It shocks them because they are not used to someone loving them and they will test that love to see if that love is true. They want it to be, but they are afraid it's not. Many of us are the same way with God. We are secretly praying, "Are You for real? Do you really love me?"
Romans 8:14-17 tells us, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ . . ."
Many reject this because we cannot believe it's true. Or we fight and struggle and question, but we do it with a furious longing for God's love to be true.
Going back to those who are in orphanages or foster care, how will they truly know the love of God if Christian's don't love them into that love? We, as believers, need to stop offering the orphan our indifference and walk in obedience to God's call that we take care of the orphan, so that, through us, they see God's love. Only His love will change them. Only His love will heal them. Only God's relentless love, tenderness, and grace can reach these children who desperately need to know a love that the poet Rilke wrote about in a poem that was more of a prayer, "I yearn to be held / in the great hands of your heart -" The hands of that heart alone can heal them, give them peace, and hold them as Jesus held the children that came to him.
For those who do step out in adoption to reach these kids, know that in the midst of the whirlwind of chaos that is the normalcy of their lives that they will bring to yours, what 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 tells us is, "Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen."
If we aren't willing to show these kids the relentless love of God, how then will they ever know and believe?