Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest known for his intellect and his compassion. He shocked people when he gave up a prestigious career teaching at Harvard to live among a community of people with physical and intellectual disabilities. I’ve always admired the way he lived what he taught and so I took a class in graduate school that was exclusively about the life and writings of Nouwen. I’ll never forget the day my professor showed a video of one of Nouwen’s final sermons before his death. In his beautiful Dutch accent, Nouwen described how God views us as his beloved sons and daughters. And I’ve been enamored with the word beloved ever since.
Just look at some of the definitions of the word beloved: dearly loved, a much loved person, darling, favorite, sweetheart, esteemed, and worthy of love. It’s a word used to describe how a husband feels about his wife, a parent feels about their children, how God described His feelings about Jesus, and how God feels about us. 1 John 3:1 (The Voice), “Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us – He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children.”
Not every translation chooses this beautiful word, but for what it’s worth, I think it is the perfect choice to try to grasp the way God feels about us and more than that, relates to us. In the original Greek, the word translated as beloved is agapeous, unconditionally loved. God views us as being worthy of His love! What is love though? It is a word that our society has twisted and diminished. I once heard a well-known pastor define love as “to provide for and protect.” This definition didn’t sit well with me and I couldn’t figure out why. Then it dawned on me. His definition was void of emotion. I can provide and protect for someone out of selfish reasons – and that is not love. Love is when you sacrificially provide for and protect someone else. When you give for another at a cost to yourself. That’s love. And that’s what God does for us.
But how can God love me to the point of making me His child when I’m so broken and selfish and stubborn and sinful? It’s because the word “beloved” implies action on the part of the one doing the loving and requires little from the one being loved. Notice another amazing word in that verse, the word lavish. God lavishes love on us! Lavish means extravagant, giving to excess, abundant, and generous. God never holds back with his love. He’s never stingy. He never withholds. How often I’ve thanked God that my relationship with Him is built on His faithfulness to me and not on my faithfulness to Him! And so it is with love. God loves me with an active and a fiercely loyal love. He sees me as worthy of His love, even when I am not. Amazing.
So how do you define love? And what does being God’s beloved mean to you?
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