I have been rereading Adrian Plass’ “Sacred Diary” today. I love those books – I like humour, and there is a serious message in them too. I particularly like the running theme of the first book, which is that “God is nice and he likes you.”
We all know – or should know – that God loves us, as the Bible says, but “love” can mean different things to different people. I have met Christians whose idea of love is all about the rebuking – and not about being gentle. I have met Christians who are hard on those who have different opinions to their own, who will, on the slightest provocation, turn around and condemn as sinful or not Christian anyone who is different, or who does not believe precisely the same as they do. They do this in the name of love. I have also read of those who will kill others because they “love” them, because to them, death is better for that person than what they would do if they continued to live in this world. This is the logic behind the auto-da-fé – the penance which ended in the death by burning of the penitent around the time of the Inquisition.
Outside of religious faith there are those who “love” their children – but neglect them, or abuse them, or care, in reality, so little about them that their children grow up damaged. There are those who “love” their aged parents – but never go and see them, not even for an hour. There are men who “love” women – and who make excuses for rape, or are rapists themselves. There are spouses who are violent to one another – but swear that they “love” their partner.
“Love” is a vague word. What is love, anyway? We know that Jesus loves us, but how can we really grasp what that means when people use the word in such strange ways? How do we apply it? What does it mean to love someone even to death, as Jesus did for us?
Love is a concept too high for me. A word, a phrase that I have learned, and little more, most of the time. I love my parents, I love my friends, I know, but I find it hard to apply that to how God sees me, and to how I see God. I have heard too often the horrible things done in the name of love – and it has tainted my view of the word itself. I end up thinking, I know God loves me – but does that mean he loves me in a ‘you will be punished’ sort of way? Or a ‘I’ll give you bipolar, but out of love for your soul’ way? Does he love me so much that he is going to teach me a lesson? Going to make me suffer for some eternal purpose? What does it mean to say God loves me?
That is why I like Plass’ phrase “God is nice and he likes you.”
God is nice – he is not just the Almighty, the Sovereign, King of Kings and Lord of Lords – he’s nice, not just holy or great or powerful, but nice. To me, to say Jesus is nice to us, it may sound like damning with faint praise, but to me – I know nice. I try to be nice to other people. Others are nice to me. A God who is nice, who is, as the OED puts it:
Kind or considerate in behaviour; friendly (towards others). Freq. In to be nice (to)*
Jesus says he is our friend – and we are all nice to our friends (or mean to be.) It reminds me of the hymn, “Let us with a gladsome mind/ praise the Lord for he is kind.” I think we often forget that God is kind.
Mental illness, at least in me, can turn my God into a Judge, and nothing else, can tell me that I am unworthy, that he loves me – but that is all. He loves me, he died for me – but does he like me? I see very little to like in myself, and love can so often be really an empty word. I forget the kindness of God, that he does not want me to ever hurt, to ever suffer, because he himself knew suffering, and knows it still when we suffer.
There is a phrase I have heard often online – “be kind to yourself.” We often aren’t. We often think God won’t be, either. God is nice, kind, our friend. God likes us – he doesn’t “love” us with that unpleasant “love” some people talk about. It isn’t an empty word for him. We might believe that he “loves” us and therefore is punishing us with the terrible pain of mental ill-health for some purpose – but do you think you would hurt, at all, someone you liked? You might say you love the sinner, but do you like them? To me the two words have a different connotation. I can stand (or sit) here and tell you that I love you, and damn you to hell at the same time, because we use the word in so many different contexts in this life, but how could I be horrible to you if I like you? It doesn’t mean I like everything about you, but it is friendly and close and it means more to me than declarations of “love”.
Love is too high, my Creator too high, but Jesus, my friend, the nicest man, who likes me; that is something I need to cling to when my mind tries to tell me that God loves me – but that bipolar is his punishment, that he sees me, and sees all my sins, that I am unworthy, not really a Christian – I want to say to myself, and to any who share the same feelings:
Relax. God is nice, and he likes you.
*Incidentally, the word “nice” has evidently had a reversal of fortune – the first entry in the OED for it is “foolish, silly, simple, ignorant”! Obviously it doesn’t mean that now!