He is still months away from being born, and already I love him with a fierce mother-love, which would defy the world to defend my boy.
His merits, thus far, are small: He rendered me quite ill for three or four months running, he already disrupts my sleep, he has destroyed my waistline, and he necessitates a move from our cozy newly-wed nest. In the future, he will no doubt exhaust, try, defy me, and wring my heart with a million hard emotions of which, childless, I was free. And yet I love him.
God made parent-love and designed it on purpose so that when he tells us he has compassion on us the way a father has compassion on his children, when he tells us he gives good gifts to us the way a father gives good gifts to his children, we can have just a glimmering notion of God’s character. Made in God’s image, in some way I love in his image — though my loving is just as inadequate and broken an image of God’s love as I am of his glory. Marveling at the love I already have for my baby boy, I am blown away to think of how God loves me.
God’s love for us surpasses human parent-love by far. We aren’t simply inconvenient children — though we are that. We aren’t simply dependent upon him for every breath — though we are that. We lived from the day of our birth in open rebellion against him, predisposed to war with him, incapable of pleasing or loving him, lacking all the charms that endear infants to parents, and yet God loved us, chose us, set us apart to be his own, gave us the ability to love him, and gave his Son for us.
That last is the thought that caught me totally off guard, as I folded laundry and thought about my baby. He is infinitely dear to me, and as he is now physically protected inside my womb, I already feel myself building emotional and intellectual walls to protect him once he’s born. In some part of me, I have pitted my tiny family against the whole world if necessary: Baby boy is mine and shall be safe, and the rest of the world can go — just anywhere, so long as baby boy is left with me.
But God’s love is not like this. In the very fact that God loves me, his parent-love differs from mine. John’s Gospel puts it this way: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). You’re finishing the verse in your head, but stop there for a moment. God loved the world. God gave his Son.
We take comfort in this verse because it declares that God loves us — because we are the world for which his Son was given, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” But do we realize the weight of the gift?
Before God made us his children, he already existed as Father. Not to sin-rotted beings like us, but to Jesus Christ “who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And lest you think there was no love lost between this Father and Son, mark the Father’s witness at Christ’s baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
Jesus was God’s “only” and “beloved” Son. God loved the world and gave this only beloved One for us: a sacrifice in this world for a kingdom that Christ said is not of this world.
So I think back to my baby boy and wonder how being conformed to God’s image must change my loving of him. Abraham took his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loved, to a mountain and raised a knife to sacrifice the boy at God’s command — and, at God’s command, stopped (Genesis 22). And Christ’s own words come heavy with demand:
It isn’t that I’m supposed to stop loving my little boy. As we already established, God designed this love. But I am supposed to love God and his kingdom more than I love this child. As I wear God’s image in loving my child, I am also to wear his image in loving the world. Baby boy is not my treasure to hide from the world — ultimately, he’s a gift with which God has entrusted me: a gift, if the Lord allows, for the kingdom.
It’s a weighty prospect, and I don’t know how to love as God does; I don’t know what that may look like in raising this boy. But I know whom I can ask for help. And because he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, I know that he will graciously give me all things (Romans 8:32) — including the ability to love as he calls me.