Many people, including some shadow Christians, struggle with believing God really loves them. They project their flawed father-image (often resulting from a bad experience with their human father) on God, envisioning him as a harsh taskmaster or distant demigod they must please at all costs. They find biblical reinforcement by reading their warped perspective into biblical texts about God’s wrath. God is holy, no doubt. He is a righteous Judge who holds people accountable for their actions. He has even broken into human history in vengeful ways to annihilate his opponents—actions that point forward to God’s promised coming judgment for people who reject him. Scripture passages with these stories and warnings deserve our attention. They are a sobering reminder that God is holy.
While these realities are true, they must be balanced by a parallel declarative statement summarizing another aspect of God’s character: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
God is holy and God is love. He is both at the same time, all the time. That’s a mind bender! Those paradoxical qualities are only found in perfect tension and balance in God—never truly emulated or understood by anyone else. The only person who ever combined these qualities perfectly was Jesus, God in human form. Jesus pronounced judgment on religious leaders (multiple stories about the Pharisees) and vigorously confronted hypocrisy (like ransacking the money changers in the temple). He also demonstrated God’s love in profound ways as he interacted with people during his time on Earth.
Too often, shadow Christians feel more judged than loved by God. They live with perpetual disappointment and condemnation because of their shortcomings, both real and imagined. They have a difficult time accepting God’s forgiveness, focusing too much on their failures as reminders of their inadequacy. They live with a nagging spiritual inferiority complex, made worse by their perceived failures to measure up in our performance-based culture. Shadow Christians have no problem believing God loves others, particularly spotlight Christians who seem to have it all together. Even if they believe God loves them, it’s more of a clinical acceptance of a cold theological fact—admitted logically but not embraced or felt emotionally. They have a hard time believing God is their Father who loves them tenderly.
That’s an unusual word not often used to describe how God relates to us. Yet tenderly best describes how Jesus related to one subset of anonymous people during his ministry. Jesus demonstrated tender love by how he related to children, to children in crisis, and to the parents of those children. These stories also illustrate how tenderly God loves you.
Through Jesus, shadow Christians experience God’s tender love.
Iorg, Jeff. 2020. Shadow Christians: Making an Impact When No One Knows Your Name. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.