Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Discussion Blog for Love Wins

I'm beginning a new discussion blog on Rob Bell's best-selling book Love Wins:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Mystery of Human Suffering

1. “’You abandoned him (Jesus on the cross) just like you abandoned me!’ ‘Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you.’
‘That makes no sense to me,’ he snapped.
‘I know it doesn’t, at least not yet. Will you at least consider this: When all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?’” (pg. 96)

Q. Bible scholars have wrestled with the cry of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Because if God is a trinity – one God revealed in three persons – how could God the Father abandon himself? Why would God abandon his son? (See 2 Corinthians 5:21)

Q. The author of The Shack interprets Jesus’ cry on the cross as him feeling that God the father had abandoned him, but in reality, he never did. What is your view on this? Why?

Q. Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Would God actually ever abandon us, his children? (See Hebrews 13:5)
2. “’Mack, pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place.’” (pg.97)

Q. We all have pain at different times in our lives. How do we keep the anguish of life from hardening our hearts and moving us away from a close relationship with God?

Q. Is it acceptable to express our anger and disappointment directly to God? (Psalm 10:1, 62:8, 88:14)

Q. Are experience the liberating grace and love of God? If not, what has ‘clipped your wings?’ How can you remove the things that keep you ‘grounded?’
3. “’Mack,’ said Papa with an intensity that caused him to listen very carefully, ‘we want to share with you the love and joy and freedom and light that we already know within ourself. We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face relationship with us, to join our circle of love. As difficult as it will be for you to understand, everything that has taken place is occurring exactly according to this purpose, without violating choice or will.’
‘How can you say that with all the pain in this world, all the wars and disasters that destroy thousands?’ Mack’s voice quieted to a whisper. ‘And what is the value in a little girl being murdered by some twisted deviant? …You may not cause those things, but you certainly don’t stop them.’
‘Mackenzie,’ Papa answered tenderly, seemingly not offended in the least by his accusation, ‘there are millions of reasons to allow pain and hurt and suffering rather than eradicate them, but most of those reasons can only be understood within each person’s story. I am not evil. You are the ones who embrace fear and pain and power and rights so readily in your relationships. But your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and the most loving outcome.’
‘You see,’ interjected Sarayu, ‘broken humans center their lives around things that seem good to them, but that will neither fill them nor free them. They are addicted to power, or the illusion of security that power offers. When a disaster happens, those same people will turn against the false powers they trusted. In their disappointment, they either become softened toward me or they become bolder in their independence. If you could only see how all of this ends and what we will achieve without the violation of one human will – then you would understand. One day you will.’
‘But the cost!’ Mack was staggered. ‘Look at the cost – all the pain, all the suffering, everything that is so terrible and evil.’ He paused and looked down at the table. ‘And look at what it has cost you. Is it worth it?’
‘Yes!’ came the unanimous, joyful response of all three.’ (pg. 124-125)

Q. God wants to ‘share with you the love, joy, freedom, and light’ he experiences within the trinity. Jesus said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:11) And the Apostle John wrote, “We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.” (1 John 1:4) What keeps us from enjoying the presence of God?

Q. Why is it important to God that he not ‘violate human choice or will?’ How would our relationship change with him if he did?

Q. When Mack thought of all the pain and suffering in the world, he couldn’t reconcile it with God’s statement that everything is going according to his purpose and plan. He said, “You may not cause those things, but you certainly don’t stop them.” Have you ever wondered if God is really controlling the events of your life? Why doesn’t God step in to protect his children from harm? (See 2 Corinthians 1: 3-11)

Q. God uses sorrow and suffering as the resource to carry out His desired finished creation: children who are a whole and complete reflection of his son Jesus (James 1:2-4). How can we better align ourselves with God’s purpose in our suffering so he accomplishes this goal?

Q. What are you centering your life around? Is it possible to make good things, like family, work, or a worthy cause the center of our lives and miss God’s best – the freedom to fly?

Q. When Jesus thinks of all his suffering, was it worth it to him to save and transform you? (See Isaiah 53:11)
4. “’You try to make sense of the world in which you live based on a very small and incomplete picture of reality. It is like looking at a parade through a tiny knothole of hurt, pain, self-centeredness, and power, and believing you are on your own and insignificant. All of these contain powerful lies. You see pain and death as the ultimate evils and God as the ultimate betrayer, or perhaps, at best, fundamentally untrustworthy. You dictate the terms and judge my actions and find me guilty.
‘The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don’t think that I am good. If you knew I was good and that everything – the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives – is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me. But you don’t.
‘I don’t?’ asked Mack, but it was not really a question.
Sarayu spoke. ‘Mackenzie, you cannot produce trust just like you cannot ‘do’ humility. It either is or is not. Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved. Because you do not know that I love you, you cannot trust me.’” (pg. 126)

Q. How we see the world – our world view – makes all the difference in our lives. If we look at life through the ‘knothole of hurt, pain, self-centeredness, and power’ we grow increasingly disappointed with God. How can we get an accurate perspective – one that is aligned with the reality of who God is and what he is doing in the world?

Q. The Bible calls Satan ‘the father of lies.’ (John 8:44) He is constantly trying to plant deceptive ideas about ourselves, others, and God in our minds. What are some of the ways he does this in your life? How can you counteract it? (See Matthew 4:1-11, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

Q. Do you believe that ‘the Lord is good; his love endures forever?” (1 Chronicles 16:34) Why or why not? Do you think Mack had justifiable reasons to doubt God’s goodness and love?

Q. How do we know that God loves us? (See John 3:16, 1 John 4:9)

Q. What if you’d like to have faith in God, but you can’t seem to ‘muster’ it up? What should you do? (See Mark 9:24)

Q. What is authentic faith based on? (See Romans 10:17)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Invitation to you

At the time of this post, there are over 5 million copies of The Shack in print and no signs of it slowing down. If you enjoyed reading The Shack, please help me make a useful study guide for small groups and personal study. I've categorized sections of the book, and now I'm asking you to suggest questions and make comments under each section.

John Sawyer

The power of forgiveness

The power of forgiveness
1. In the chapter, Festival of Friends, pages 209-217, Mack experience just the visual aspects of heaven, sees the glory of Jesus, experiences the depths of Jesus’ love for him and has a tear-filled reunion and reconciliation with his father. “’We are coming full circle. Forgiving your dad yesterday was a significant part of your being able to know me as Father today (Papa changed from an African American woman to a dignified older man). ‘” (pg. 221)

Q. Have you been deeply offended by a family member, friend, or someone you trusted? If so, what would it take for you to completely forgive them?

Q. Would it help if they were punished? If they said they were sorry? If they tried to make it up to you with some kind of compensation?

Q. What if someone else took the full punishment in their place and then offered you the priceless gift of eternal life?
Q. Jesus said, "’If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.’ The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’" (Luke 17:3-5) Why is this so hard to do? Don’t we run the risk of enabling someone to continue in sin by forgiving all the time? Why or why not?
2. Papa asked Mack to forgive Missy’s killer. ‘Mackenzie, don’t you see that forgiveness is an incredible power – a power you share with us, a power Jesus gives to all whom he indwells so that reconciliation can grow? When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross they were no longer in his debt, nor mine. In my relationship with those men, I will never bring up what they did, or shame them, or embarrass them.’
‘I don’t think I can do this,’ Mack answered softly.

Q. In your opinion, how is forgiveness ‘an incredible power’ that we share with God?

Q. Mack doesn’t think he is capable of ever forgiving the man who murdered his daughter. Papa reminds him that he knows how hard forgiveness can be. When Jesus was murdered on the cross he said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) And his Father did forgive them. But even with Jesus’ example, how could a person ever forgive an unspeakable crime committed against them?

Q. Papa told Mack that the power to forgive comes from Jesus indwelling him. The Apostle Paul writes, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you…” (Romans 8:9-10) So, as a believer in Jesus, how do I access this power to forgive?
3. ‘I want you to (forgive the murderer). Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver,’ answered Papa, ‘to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly.

Q. The Bible says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32) How has God forgiven you (us)?

Q. Jesus said, “Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) When we hold a grudge against someone who has offended us, who is usually hurt the most by it? How does my lack of forgiveness affect those I love?

Q. Jesus said, ““So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (Matthew 5:23-24) How does my grudge against someone affect my relationship with God?

4. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don’t you want to cut that off? And in doing so, you’ll release him from a burden that he carries whether he knows it or not – acknowledges it or not. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well.’
‘I do not love him.’
‘Not today, you don’t. But I do Mack, not for what he’s become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on that nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate.’

Q. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord. Instead, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads. Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:19-21) When someone injures or offends us, what is the difference between a legitimate desire for justice and an sinful desire for revenge?

Q. Loving our enemies is counterintuitive, but, according to Paul, it is the most powerful thing we can do. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Love Wins?” Is it possible to conquer evil by doing good – by forgiving and loving our enemies ? Why or why not?

Q. Papa is asking Mack to empathize with the man who murdered his daughter because he was “twisted by his pain.” Do you think that those who victimize others are usually victims themselves? How should the abuse of those who have abuse others factor into our forgiveness?
5. “’So forgiveness does not require me to pretend what he did never happened?’
‘How can you? You forgave your dad last night. Will you ever forget what he did to you?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘But now you can love him in the face of it. His change allows for that. Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes – and this may seem incomprehensible to your right now – that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust.’ (pg. 224-226).

Q. When we forgive someone, it feels like we’re just ‘letting ‘em off the hook.’ We want them to suffer for what they’ve done – to know it wasn’t right and never will be okay. God isn’t asking us to “pretend…it never happened.” What is God specifically asking of us when he tells us to forgive others?

Q. Sometimes the idea of reaching out so someone who has injured or offended us seems foolish because we just become vulnerable to get hurt again. People don’t really change, right? Consider the story of the Apostle Paul. He was part of the group that was violently persecuting and killing Christians (Acts 7:57-60). After his conversion he writes, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-17) Based on this passage, is there anyone that is hopeless? Is it possible for God to change the heart of even the worst sinner? Who do you know that is least likely to change? Could you restate this passage into a prayer for that person?

The effects of the fall

The effects of the fall
1. “’When something happens to you, how do you determine whether it is good or evil?’
‘Mack thought for a moment before answering. ‘Well, something is good when I like it – when it makes me feel good or gives me a sense of security. Conversely, I’d call something evil that causes me pain or costs me something I want.’
‘So it is pretty subjective then?’
‘I guess it is.’”

Q. What if everyone determined good and evil the way Mack does? What would the results be?

Q. How would you answer Papa’s question? How do you decide when something is good or bad?

2. “‘And how confident are you in your ability to discern what indeed is good for you, or what is evil?’
‘To be honest,’ said Mack, ‘I tend to sound justifiably angry when somebody is threatening my ‘good,’ you know, what I think I deserve. But I’m not really sure I have any logical ground for deciding what is actually good or evil, except how something or someone effects me. …All seems quite self-serving and self-centered, I suppose. And my track record isn’t very encouraging either. Some things I initially thought were good turned out to be horribly destructive, and some things that I thought were evil, well, they turned out …’
Sarayu interrupted, ‘Then it is you who determines good and evil. You become the judge. And to make things more confusing, that which you determine to be good will change over time and circumstance. And then beyond that and even worse, there are billions of you each determining what is good and what is evil. So when your good and evil clashes with your neighbor’s, fights and arguments ensue and even wars break out. And if there is no reality of good that is absolute, then you have lost any basis for judging. It is just language, and one might as well exchange the word good for the word evil.’
‘I can see where that might be a problem,’ Mack agreed.
‘A problem?’ Sarayu almost snapped…’Indeed! The choice to eat of that tree tore the universe apart divorcing the spiritual from the physical. They died, expelling in the breath of their choice the very breath of God. I would say that is a problem!’ (pg. 134-135)

Q. What powerful ability do we share with God? How does God want us to use our ability to discern between good and evil? What do we need from God to use this ability to help others rather than harm them?

Q. How does our culture feel about an absolute moral guide?

Q. Is it really wrong for us to judge? Don’t we have to make judgments about people and situations to determine if they are good for us or our family? What is the difference between appropriate ‘discernment’ and inappropriate judging?

Q. Mack is being honest about his judgment. He realizes it is “self-serving and self-centered.” Jesus said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2) Based on this passage, how should be approach the evaluation of others?

Q. How did Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the forbidden fruit – the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil – “divorce the spiritual from the physical” and “expel the very breath of God?” (See Genesis 3) How would our lives be different if they hadn’t made this decision?
3. “You imagine. Such a powerful ability, the imagination! That power alone makes you so like us. But without wisdom, imagination is a cruel taskmaster. If I may prove my case, do you think humans were designed to live in the present or the past or the future?’
‘Well,’ said Mack, hesitating, ‘I think the most obvious answer is that we were designed to live in the present. Is that wrong?’
‘Jesus chuckled. ‘Relax, Mack; this is not a test, it’s a conversation. You are exactly correct, by the way. But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time in your mind, in your imagination, in the present, in the past, or in the future?’
‘Mack thought for a moment before answering. ‘I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present. For me, I spend a big piece in the past, mot most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.’
‘Not unlike most people. When I dwell with you, I do so in the present – I live in the present. Not the past, although much can be remembered and learned by looking back, but only for a visit, not an extended stay. And for sure, I do not dwell in the future you visualize or imagine. Mack, do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you?
‘Why do I do that?’ asked Mack.
‘It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will ever be real. You try and play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming a reality, and then you try to make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear.’ (pg. 141-142)

Q. Do you find yourself living mostly in past, present, or future? Why is this? What problems does this focus on the past or the future create in our lives?

Q. Like Mack, do you find yourself fearing the future? Especially during these times of financial turmoil, it’s hard not to give in to anxious thoughts about the future. How can we overcome this ‘bad habit?’

Q. Have you ever tried to “play God” by making contingency plans for the future? How has it worked for you? Can you remember times when you were able to trust God with the future? What was the result?
4. “Why do I have so much fear in my life?’ responded Mack.
‘Because you don’t believe. You don’t know that we love you. The person who lives by their fears will not find freedom in my love. I am not talking about rational fears regarding legitimate dangers, but imagined fears, and especially the projection of those into the future. To the degree that those fears have a place in your life, you neither believe I am good nor know deep in your heart that I love you. You sing about it; you talk about it, but you don’t know it.’ (pg. 142)

Q. How would you answer Mack’s question? “Why do I (we) have so much fear in my life (our lives)?”

Q. Paul wrote, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) How does it help to know that no matter what happens in the future, you’ll always be loved by God?

Q. The Apostle John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) How does God want us to view the future? (See 1 Peter 5:7, Philippians 4:6-7, and Matthew 6:25-33)
5. “’…Can you imagine this scene if the earth was not a war, striving so hard just to survive?’
‘And you mean what, exactly?’
‘Our earth is like a child who has grown up without parents, having no one to guide and direct her.’ As Jesus spoke, his voice intensified in subdued anguish. ‘Some have attempted to help her but most have simply tried to use her. Humans, who have been given the task to lovingly steer the world, instead plunder her with no consideration, other than their own immediate needs. And they give little thought for their own children who will inherit their lack of love. So they use her and abuse her will little consideration and then when she shudders or blows her breath, they are offended and raise their fist at God.’
‘You’re an ecologist?’ Mack said, half as an accusation.
‘This blue-green ball in black space, filled with beauty even now, battered and abused and lovely.’
‘I know that song. You must care deeply about the Creation,’ smiled Mack.
‘Well, this blue-green ball in black space belongs to me,’ Jesus stated emphatically.” (pg.144-145)

Q. The Bible says we humans were given responsibility to care for the earth. “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26) How are we doing? Why?

Q. Jesus quotes a lyric from the Bruce Cockburn album Humans, “This blue-green ball in black space, filled with beauty even now, battered and abused and lovely.” In your opinion, who is abusing the earth and why? Is there anything the average person can do to stop the abuse?

Q. What responsibility do we have to protect the earth? What should God’s children be doing personally, corporately (as a member of the church), nationally (as a citizen)?

The mystery of God’s grace

1. “’ Well, I sort of feel obligated to go in and talk to him, uh, her.’ ‘Oh,’ now Jesus was serious. ‘Don’t go because you feel obligated. That won’t get you any points around here. Go because it’s what you want to do.’” (pg. 89)

Q. Do you ever go to church, pray, give your tithe, or read your Bible out of a sense of duty or obligation? If we don’t genuinely want to do these things, should we just wait until our desire for God is real?

Q. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:21-22) Is your hesitance to meet with God ever a result of a guilty conscience? If so, what can you do to remove this barrier?

Q. Do you go to God to talk with him about your questions and problems? If so, could you share with the group an experience you’ve had of God responding to you?
2. “’Have you noticed that in your pain you assume the worst of me (Jesus)? I’ve been talking to you for a long time, but today was the first time you could hear it, and all those other times weren’t a waste either. Like little cracks in the wall, one at a time, but woven together they prepared you for today. You have to take the time to prepare the soil if you want it to embrace the seed.’
‘I’m not sure why we resist it, resist you so much,’ Mack mused. ‘It seems kind of stupid now.’
‘It’s all part of the timing of grace, Mack,’ Jesus continued. ‘If the universe contained only one human being, timing would be rather simple. But add just one more, and well, you know the story. Each choice ripples out through time and relationships, bouncing off of other choices. And out of what seems to be a huge mess, Papa weaves a magnificent tapestry. Only Papa can work all this out, and she does it with grace.’
‘So I guess all I can do is follow her,’ Mack concluded.
‘Yep, that’s the point. Now you’re beginning to understand what it means to be truly human.’” (pg. 176-177)

Q. When pain comes into our lives, why do we automatically assume the worst of God – that he allowed the situation, that he doesn’t care, won’t help, etc.? Why do we tend to push away the one who can help us most?

Q. Stephen accused the Jews, “You continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you're just like your ancestors.” (Acts 7:51, The Message) Do you think God is trying to get a message to you right now? What or who might he use? How can you prepare your heart to hear his voice?

Q. What do we learn about God by His persistence in trying to speak to us?

Q. How would you define ‘grace?’ How should we respond to it?

Q. Jesus tells Mack that God is able to take all of the good and bad choices we humans make and “weave them together in a magnificent tapestry” by his grace. Paul wrote, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28) When we all see this “tapestry” of random events, what will our response be? (See Revelation 5)

3. “’Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.’” (pg. 185)

Q. Some Christians believe that God is ‘sovereign’ – that he rules over every circumstance. Nothing happens without his permission and plan (Daniel 4:35). Others believe he is behind the scenes working good out of bad situations (Romans 8:28) but allowing circumstances to happen but not causing them. Which do you think is taught by the Bible? Why? What are the implications of these two different viewpoints?

Q. If, like Mack, you lost a child or grandchild to a deranged murderer, how would you reconcile the tragedy with your belief in a loving God? (See Job 1:18-22)

Q. How have you discovered the ‘many facets and colors’ of God’s grace during your dark times?

Q. Sometimes we develop doubts and wrong ideas about God during our trials. What will keep us from ‘the great sadness’ that Mack was trapped in? (See James 1:2-4)

The mystery of God’s love

The mystery of God’s love
1. “’Consider our little friend here (blue jay),’ she (Papa) began. ‘Most birds were created to fly. Being grounded for them is a limitation within their ability to fly, not the other way around. You, on the other hand, were created to be loved. So for you to live as if you were unloved is a limitation, not the other way around. Living unloved is like clipping a bird’s wings and removing its ability to fly. Not something I want for you.” (pg. 97)

Q. “You were created to be loved.” The Bible describes us as, “Those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:1) Why is it important to know, and really believe, that we were created to be loved? Why do we live as if we are unloved?

Q. What has God done to show his love to us? (See John 3:16, Ephesians 5:25, 1 John 4:10)

Q. What has made you question God’s love? How do circumstances in your life affect your belief in God’s love?

Q. How do humans (family, friends, other Christians) affect your confidence in God’s love for you?

Q. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) If you could fully accept the truth of these words, how would it change your identity? How could it help you ‘fly?’
2. “’You do understand,’ she continued, ‘that unless I had an object to love – or more accurately, a someone to love – if I did not have such a relationship within myself, then I would not be capable of love at all? You would have a god who could not love. Or maybe worse, you would have a god who, when he chose, could only love as a limitation of his nature. That kind of god could possibly act without love, and that would be a disaster. And that is surely not me. …The God who is – the I am who I am – cannot act apart from love.’” (pg.102)

Q. Why is it so important that one of God’s attributes is love? How might this world be a different place if God could only love ‘as a limitation of his nature’ rather than as a essential part of who he is?

Q. What is love? Webster defines it as “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as in the fatherly concern of God for humankind.” We usually think of a loving parent as someone who provides everything we need and protects us from harm. How does this compare to your experience of God’s love in your life?

Q. The Apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.” (1 John 4:7-9) Based on God’s gift of his son to this world, how does God define love?

Q. How does the assurance that God ‘cannot act apart from love’ affect your relationship with him?
3. “’ I’m so sorry that you, that Jesus, had to die.’
She walked around the table and gave Mack another big hug. ‘I know you are, and thank you. But you need to know that we aren’t sorry at all. It was worth it. Isn’t that right son?’
‘Absolutely!’ He (Jesus) paused and then looked at Mack. ‘And I would have done it even if it were only for you, but it wasn’t!’ he said with an inviting grin.” (pg. 103)

Q. Why did Jesus have to die?

Q. What does every person for who Jesus died have to realize to benefit from his sacrifice?

Q. The Prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus’ death on the cross in Isaiah 53:11, “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.” Jesus looks at those who have been delivered from eternal judgment by his tortured sacrifice on the cross and says we were worth it - worth the anguish, the pain, the awful judgment of God for our sins, worth death. How does knowing that God values you this much make you feel about yourself?
4. “’Why do you love us humans? I suppose, I…’ As he spoke he (Mack) realized he hadn’t formed his question very well. ‘I guess what I want to ask, is why do you love me, when I have nothing to offer you.’
‘If you think about it, Mack,’ Jesus answered, ‘it should be very freeing to know that you can offer us nothing, at least not anything that can add or take away from who we are…That should alleviate any pressure to perform.’
‘And do you love your own children more when they perform well?’ added Papa.
‘No, I see your point.’ Mack paused. ‘But I do feel more fulfilled because they are in my life – do you?’
‘No,’ said Papa. ‘We are already fully fulfilled within ourself. You are designed to be in community as well, made as you are in our very image. So for you to feel that way about your children, or anything that ‘adds’ to you, is perfectly natural and right.”

Q. Why does God love us humans?

Q. How does a clear understanding of God’s love ‘alleviate any pressure to perform?

Q. Is there anything we can add to God when we respond to his love? Why or why not?

Q. How is our love different from God’s love?

Q. Is it possible for us to be completely fulfilled by experiencing God’s love more deeply? (See Ephesians 3:14-20)