It’s impossible to deny that life is full of mystery, and that as humans we are bound to wonder. What lies beyond the stars? How did we get here? Why do bad things happen to good people? What will tomorrow hold?
There are some mysteries in particular which I would call spiritual mysteries. Mysteries that seem to be more connected with the life of the soul, that don’t seem to make sense to our insistently logical brains.
Perhaps a better way to understand what I’m talking about is as spiritual paradoxes; things that don’t make sense but somehow in the light of who Jesus is they begin to seem possible. Things that are uniquely comprehensible only in the kingdom of God.
In this mini series I’ll consider four spiritual mysteries; not to try and make sense of them but to create a space for us to wonder and marvel further together at who God is and what he does in our lives.
1 // Spiritual Mysteries // Beloved
I can remember as a teenager, right in the infancy of my faith, understanding for the first time just what it meant to be the beloved of God. I remember being astounded, blown away by the idea that God delights in me, that I am loved totally and fully by him. I can remember standing in crowded rooms at summer festivals with thousands of other worshipping teenagers and feeling as if I were the only one there. I felt the oceans of God’s peace and love pour over me and I knew deep down within me that I am the beloved, chosen, child of God.
That knowledge of being the beloved has changed over time but it has never left me. Anyone who has experienced that love of God understands just how transformative it is; how it brings stability and safety. The more we breathe in that love, the less we feel a desperate need to seek love elsewhere. The more we own and walk in it, the less we feel instability and insecurity about our identities and beings.
Henri Nouwen writes about this at length in his book Life of the Beloved. He speaks about owning our belovedness and the idea that we existed in the heart of God long before we were ever loved or admired by any human being. He speaks about the love of God having seen us as precious and of eternal value before we ever did a thing to prove ourselves worthy. This is true today for me and also for you. You are chosen as God’s beloved.
Nouwen also goes on to speak of how difficult it is to understand being chosen in a world of competition and comparison. I think this is even more true now than it was when he was writing in the 90s. Two decades on and the world is busier, quicker, and the opportunities for comparison are rife. If one person succeeds that usually means somebody else didn’t. If one person is top of the class, somebody else missed out. If one person is chosen to be someone’s spouse, that means all of
the other people in the world weren’t.
Not all of that is a bad thing, in fact sometimes it can be a good thing like in the context of marriage, but it means that the way we understand being chosen and being beloved is usually as something that belongs to one person, to the exclusion of others.
Here comes the great mystery; somehow in the kingdom of God this works completely differently. Miraculously, our own being chosen does not mean that somebody else is forgotten. When we stand alongside other Christians knowing that we are the beloved, they too experience that same belovedness. My being chosen doesn’t exclude you. Your being beloved does not exclude me. We are each one of us seen, known, chosen, beloved.
Surely in any ordinary, logical world our being chosen should mean that somebody else is left out? Surely if we are the beloved one then others can’t be? This is one of the mysteries of faith. Our being included does not lead to somebody else being excluded.
We are fully and wholly loved by God, and yet no more elite or special than anybody else. We are in many ways totally ordinary, and yet completely adored.
I’m reminded in all of this of the story of the lost son. Each son in his own way must have imagined that the other son was more beloved; the elder son because he had stayed behind and done what pleased his father, and the younger son because he delighted the father with his return. But the father’s response in that story speaks loudly of how there is room in God’s heart for each one of us with our own unique journey. There’s not only one special spot, there is space for each of us to be the beloved child of God.
What a delight it is to be a part of this mystery, and what a privilege. It’s a mystery that should part the clouds of doubt over who we are and pave the way for deep security. Not only that, but it should open our eyes to see just how loved are our neighbours and friends and even enemies. The need to compete and compare is swept away when we know that we are deeply loved, and so too is everyone else.
‘For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces, my love won’t walk away from you, my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.’ The God who has compassion on you says so.’Isaiah 54:10 – The MSG.