At the heart of our faith lies the deep truth that we are unconditionally loved by God. We believe that God looks down on our lives and says: You are my beloved child, in you I take delight! We do not doubt that truth of that, we just find it impossible to believe.
Some years ago, at a workshop, a woman came up to me during the break and articulated this in these words: “God loves me unconditionally. I know that’s true, but I how can I make myself believe it? I simply can’t!” She could have been speaking for half of the human race. We know we are loved by God, we can say the words, but how do we make ourselves believe that?
Why? Why is that so difficult to believe?
For many reasons, though mostly because (unless we are extraordinarily blessed) we rarely, if ever, experience unconditional love. Mostly we experience love with conditions, even from those closest to us: Our parents love us better when we do not mess up. Our teachers love us better when we behave and perform well. Our churches love us better when we do not sin. Friends love us better when are successful and not needy. The world loves us better when we are attractive. Our spouses love us better when we do not disappoint them. Mostly, in this world, we have to measure up in some way to be loved.
Moreover many of us too have been wounded by supposed expressions of love that were not love at all but were instead expressions of self-serving manipulation, exploitation, or even positive abuse. Beyond even this, all of us have been cursed and shamed in our enthusiasm by the countless times someone, either through words or through a hateful or judgmental glace, in effect said to us: Who do you think you are? We wither under that and become the walking wounded, unable to believe that we are loved and loveable. So, even when we know that God loves us, how can we make ourselves believe it?
At one level, we do believe it. Deep down, below our wounded parts, the child of God that still inhabits the recesses of our soul knows that it is made in God’s image and likeness and is special, beautiful, and loveable. That is why we so easily become angry and enraged whenever someone violates our dignity or puts us down.
But how do we make ourselves believe that we are unconditionally loved in a way that would make us less insecure in our attitude and our actions? How do we live in a surer confidence that we are unconditionally loved so as to let that radiate in the way we treat others and ourselves?
There are no easy answers. For a wounded soul, like for a wounded body, there are no magic wands for quick easy healings. Biblically, however, there is an image that, while confusing on the surface, addresses this: When God gives Joshua instructions on how to move into the Promised Land he tells him that, once there, he must “kill” everything there, all the men, women, children, and even the animals.
Taken literally, this text is horrible and speaks about everything that God is not. But this is not a literal text but an archetypal one. It is an image, a metaphor. I suspect that someone in an Alcoholics Anonymous program will more easily get its message: Killing all the inhabitants of Canaan means precisely giving away all the bottles in your liquor cabinet – the scotch, the bourbon, the wine, the cognac, the gin, the beer, the vodka, and everything else that’s there. You can’t take the Promised Land and still keep a few “Canaanites” on the side or you will soon lose the Promised Land.
That image also tells us what we must do to enter our true self-image, the deep truth that we are unconditionally loved by God. In great mythical literature we see that, usually, before the great wedding where the young prince and the young princess are to be married so as to live happily ever after, there first has to be an execution: the wicked older brothers and the wicked step-sisters have to be killed off. Why? Because they would eventually come and spoil the wedding.
Who are those wicked older brothers and wicked step-sisters? They are not different people from the young prince or princess getting married. They are their older incarnations. They are also inside of us. They are the inner voices from our past that can, at any given moment, ruin our wedding or our self-image by dragging in our past humiliations and saying: “Who do you think you are? Do you really think that you can marry a prince or princess? Do you really think that you’re loveable? We know you, we know your past, so don’t delude yourself! “
To actually believe that we are unconditionally loved, we first have to kill a few “Canaanites”.