|Maybe you will find this hard to believe, but, from years and years of paying attention to the fears and hopes that people carry deep in their hearts, I know it to be true: More people than you might guess are sure that God is mostly unhappy with them, endlessly frustrated by their flaws, and couldn't possibly like them very much, much less love them.
Many people believe that the pain and frustration they feel in life are, somehow, the result of God's guilty verdict on the ways they've gone wrong, Sayles observes.
They're convinced that God is ready to pounce on them and punish them for who they are, what they have done and what they have failed to do.
They believe that the pain and frustration they feel in life are, somehow, the result of God's guilty verdict on the ways they've gone wrong.
If they're church people, they might say that God loves them – that's what they're supposed to say, after all – but down inside, they feel that God works mostly by threats, intimidation and fear.
During my elementary school years, my family was active in a church where I heard, over and over again, the words of John 3:16.
I heard them most often in the King James Version: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
God so loved the world. So loved. I hope you know what it's like to feel such overwhelming, glad and grateful love for another person that you can't simply say "I love you." You have to add, you want to add, "So, so much. So, so much."
God loved and loves you and me and everyone and everything so, so much.
God loves the world; you probably know that the word we translate world is the Greek word kosmos.
So what John 3:16 actually says is, God so loved the cosmos. That means there is not a corner of the universe, not a pocket of space untouched by God's love.
Everything on the earth – plant or animal, animate or inanimate – is here because, at the dawn of time and in every moment since, God's immense love, a love God takes joy in sharing, has been overflowing in the ecstasy of creation.
It is all here, we are all here, because of love.
God lavishes love on every human being, young and old, men and women, "red and yellow, black and white," rich and poor, male and female, friend and enemy, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist and searcher.
There is not a person on the earth whom God does not love and no one whom God does not want to welcome into God's own tender heart.
Guy Sayles is pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C. This column first appeared on his blog, From the Intersection.