I discovered again in our cell meeting just how pervasive this impression of God hating someone is. So many of us have perceived the message somewhere along the line, early in our lives, that the God of the Bible disapproves of people in deep way. That because we are sinners, God is just looking at us with one eyebrow up, seeing all of our failure. Some churches even teach a doctrine of “total depravity” when it comes to the state of human beings. I think we encounter someone very different in Jesus, especially when he meets Nathaniel in the first chapter of John’s gospel:
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law,and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”
So Nathaniel is judging Jesus and his hometown, before he even meets him, and Jesus still returns with a deep compliment of recognition. He sees goodness in Nathaniel! Whaaat?
When I asked our cell how we are responding to Jesus calling out the goodness in us, some of us were flabbergasted. We had too many years of believing messages about ourselves that we are not good enough, or don’t measure up in some way for God to call us good. Isn’t that what so much of religion has harped on?
I think we’ll have to hear what Jesus says about ourselves and believe him if we’re going to find peace and wholeness. It will take some faith. We will have to know his gaze. Check out Ephesians 1: you are chosen, adopted as God’s child, blameless, and loved. For real. We’re forming community and being the church so we can demonstrate that truth to each other in the flesh. It takes some eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart relating for most of us to start believing Jesus about who we are, and rise up with him to serve the world.
Jesus sees the goodness in us now AND sees us as we are becoming. I believe his vision of Nathaniel (even as the poor, uneducated, teenager that he probably was) included who God was making him to be as he exercised his faith and followed his dreams. I hope we let ourselves move with Jesus into the future, too, and not just judge ourselves and others according to the limitations of who we are in this very moment. With Jesus, we are eternal, we will grow and change and develop for the best if we are opening our lives and hearts to his grace. You are seen and loved—go and act on that! Not on some lie that God doesn’t like you, no matter what happened yesterday.