I never could put my finger on why Mrs. Snodgrass didn’t like me. Her name certainly wasn’t playground safe, but I never sang mean little ditties about her like some other 4th graders. I wasn’t little boot-licking Johnny Do-Gooder, but I also wasn’t shooting spitwads across the room or letting Buster, the class hamster, run free. But Mrs. Snodgrass had it out for me. I couldn’t sneeze without being shushed or ask a simple question without being talked down to like I was the stupidest thing since Diet Water.
But despite the fact that I scored an F in likeability, I was still her student and she my teacher. She was obligated to teach me Math, Reading, Writing, Social Studies—you name it. So she taught and I learned. She assigned homework and I completed it. Teaching me was, after all, her obligation, her job, whether she liked the nine-year-old object of that teaching or not.
Mrs. Snodgrass didn’t like me or care for me or treasure me, but she nonetheless watched over me, guided my progress, assigned me grades, and used her energy and expertise to move me along the path of learning.
And, in that way, Mrs. Snodgrass was like God.
MR. GOD’S CLASSROOM
The Sovereign of the universal classroom—Mr. God—is a lot my 4th grade teacher. He has a job to do and he does it. We might disagree about his career performance, but we can’t argue with the fact that he still turns the eastern light on every morning, oversees the conception of babies, and keeps us on our annual 365.25 day odyssey. The Almighty even feeds us, clothes us, schools us, and keeps most of us, most of the time, in relatively good health. In the Christian religion, we even believe Mr. God sent his best pupil ever—his Son—into our classroom to be murdered by the bad students so they could be forgiven.
All this Mr. God did and does. It’s his divine calling. He’s the Teacher of the cosmos. He has his classroom pets—lottery winners and Mother Teresas; he has his A, B, and C students; and he has a bunch he doesn’t like one bit. But, being God, he’s still gotta do good by them. He’s theologically obligated even to love them. But like them? Heavens no.
Mr. God might love the classroom of the world, but he doesn’t like it.
FOR GOD SO LIKED THE WORLD?
At least, that’s what some people think. A whole lot of people actually, many of them virtually oozing religion. In fact, it seems to me that religious folks, for all they chatter on about the love of God, all too often give the impression that divine love is merely a theological category or physical description. God is love = God is God. Like Chad is tall = Chad is Chad. Or Elizabeth is pretty = Elizabeth is Elizabeth. Or Tom is smart = Tom is Tom. It’s a personality feature or a religious quality or a philosophical way of being.
But the love of the Father is vastly more than Mr. God’s obligatory duty of teaching his classroom and taking care of the students, whether he likes them or not. It’s the beating, glowing, radiant, furious longing of the heart of God for every single one of us.
Brennan Manning asks, “How would you respond if I asked you this question: ‘Do you honestly believe God likes you, not just loves you because theologically God has to love you?’"
As for myself, I find it easier to believe that God loves me than that he likes me. And I can guess why. Because I’ve flattened out his love to a cerebral, religious quality. Like omnipotence and omniscience and other highfalutin religious words. Mr. God is like Mrs. Snodgrass—just doing his job.
God likes our personalities, our eccentricities, our warts and scars and limps.
Only he’s not. He honestly likes us. He’s the Grandpa who goes on and on about how delicious these mud pies are that we present to him. He laughs, honestly and sincerely, at our stupid jokes. He doesn’t get peeved with our tardiness but hugs us and plants a kiss on our cheeks when we show up two hours late. He likes us when we’re fat, when we’re grumpy, when we’re OCD, when we’re impatient, when we’re bitchy, when we’re making fools of ourselves, and when we just want to be left alone.
He’s the perfect father, the ideal Abba, whose love is warm and true and real. As warm and true and real as the blood of Jesus that made that love tangible. Caring for us isn’t his obligation, his job. It’s his delight. He can’t wait to see us off to school, sit with us at work, watch Netflix with us, and stand guard all night. Why? Because he doesn’t just love us. He likes us. God likes our personalities, our eccentricities, our warts and scars and limps.
Thank the Lord he’s not Mr. God. Or the divine equivalent of Mrs. Snodgrass. Nothing makes him happier than being able to show us, a million ways every day, that we are not only the objects of his love, but that he likes us to heaven and back.