Part of my problem with believing God personally loves me is that I wouldn't love me. Maybe, if there were some high principle at stake, I would try to act loving toward someone as flighty, weak-willed, and greedy for attention as me. The reason I'm not despised for these traits is that they usually stay hidden. That Groucho Marx joke-"I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member"-is actually no joke. Pride is how I keep the mask of humility in place.
So I can't imagine being in love with someone who didn't love me back. Desiring someone, maybe; longing to own or possess when the sentiment is not returned. But sacrificial love toward an unworthy object who-even after she is won-often ignores, disregards, or trades upon that love would be beneath me. I have my pride, after all. A noble death I might be able to manage: something like Sidney Carton, in A Tale of Two Cities, going to the guillotine for the sake of the woman he loves. But for most of us, such a death would be a step up.
Jesus stepped down, inconceivably down, to love. As if being wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough were not down enough, He descended still further to a degrading death. The kind of death intended to reduce a human being to a piece of screaming meat: all dignity, all identity, even, consumed in a crawl of minutes. It would merely be pitiable if a well-meaning savior had stumbled into a death like that. But to volunteer for it, to actually debase Himself to such an extent-didn't he have any pride?
Well, no. Pride belongs to humans, not God. He doesn't need it. It's the pedestal we build to elevate ourselves, but He who makes the earth His footstool could hardly elevate Himself further.
"My richest gains I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride." We sing this thinking we've renounced earthly pomp; if we're not truly humble yet, we're getting there. But what about spiritual pomp: that last vestige of pride, the part that refuses to believe any self-respecting God would go to such lengths for miserable wretches? We rationalize His love: He did it for His own glory, to make a point, to show forth His everlasting grace and mercy. We secretly wonder how Paul could boast in the Lord and offer himself as an example to follow, yet regard himself as chief of sinners. We visualize God's love as a net that hauls in fine sleek fish together with puny sniveling fish. We're more than happy to keep to the rear while the joyous throng is pressing forward. Unworthy me-He accepts me as part of the deal, but love me?
I want to think it's humility that holds me back. But really, it's a twisted kind of pride. It was pride, chastely masquerading as self-consciousness, that made Adam ashamed of his nakedness; he thought he was better than the shivering pale creature he saw reflected in his wife. This is the stubborn cancer I inherited from him. Christ emptied himself (Philippians 2:7), but I can't. Not yet.
Flash forward to a bank beside a fast-flowing, sharp-waved river. On the opposite bank rises the shining spires of the Celestial City. The river is my last obstacle; to enter the city, I have to give up everything, even my rags. (They took everything from Him, to the last rag.) Can I surrender every shred of "unworthy me," drown in Him, embrace and fully believe this crazy, heedless, extravagant, self-effacing love for such as I? He took the plunge-a high, death-defying leap. It's my turn now.
His love is not the net but the river itself, this wild crystal stream. It will tear away the last scrap of my unbelief. From it I will emerge naked but unashamed, gasping like a fish in full comprehension, and as free of pride as God Himself.