God loves me?
During the summer of 1978, when I was twenty-one years of age, and between my first and second years at Bible School, I traveled from my home in Newfoundland to Montreal, where I connected with an Aeroflot jet en route to the Soviet Union. I had won an all-expenses-paid tour of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in an essay contest sponsored by Radio Moscow and the Sputnik Youth Organization.
In Moscow, well before the days of glasnost and perestroika, I was met by a maze of red tape. I was told, much to my chagrin, “We have never heard of you,” “We do not give free trips to our country,” “You are entering our country illegally,” “You are liable for a ten-year prison sentence.” And on it went. The incredible bureaucratic hassles and confusion made the journey seem to me like a Marxist comedy of errors, more akin to the Marx brothers than to Karl!
Late one night, about halfway into my trip, I was unusually homesick, discouraged, and disoriented, feeling alienated from both reality and God. A sense of bleakness had enveloped me. The darkness was almost palpable.
In desperation, I instinctively dropped to my knees in my hotel room and, from the depths of my being, cried out, “God, where are you? Do you care for me? Do you even know where I am at this moment? If you are real, then why do I feel so alone and forsaken?”
I felt a sudden urge to go for a walk downtown. My heart was heavy; each step was leaden. The night was wet and cold, adding to my overwhelming sense of estrangement. Inexplicably, it seemed I was being compelled towards a steep and dangerous embankment.
At the precipice, I stopped. I removed my glasses and wiped the lenses. Replacing them, I wearily lifted my sodden head. Peering across the ravine through the tears, fog and driving rain, I noticed something painted in white on a rock. I focused on, then slowly read aloud, the block letters before me, “GOD LOVES YOU.”
The chances of ending up at that specific spot on my own were slim–the chances of reading such an inscription in a country like Russia, especially in those days, were slimmer. I read the words over and over and over again...GOD LOVES YOU. Then, I raised my eyes and posed my most existential question to that point, “God loves me?”
I had had what can only be described as an epiphany, that moment of sudden revelation or insight. A triad of simple yet profound words was more than sufficient to carry me through my remaining time in Russia.
To this day, I cannot explain exactly what happened. However, those words have since sustained me through the peripatetic journey of my life. Its twists and turns have turned on the dynamics of Divine love. When my faith wavers and the circumstances of life threaten to overwhelm me, I think back to that day in Moscow in August of 1978 when I was struck with the radical and life-changing realization of God’s love for his children.
Over Christmas, I revisited my Russian experience while listening to a recording of C. S. Lewis reading from his book, The Four Loves. In his classic, he explores the nature of the quartet of words translated love in the New Testament–storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (sexual love) and agape (selfless love). His resonant, baritone voice speaks from beyond the grave, propelling believers to demonstrate the kind of love God has for his crowning creation.
Pitfalls in our loves lead us to the biblical solution–Godlike agape. “In God,” Lewis states, “there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.”
The Apostle John mentioned love twenty-seven times in 1 John 4. In a plastic world, where love is often misunderstood, misdefined, and misappropriated, the greatest realization is the fact of God’s unconditional love for us.
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