Do you believe in love? Before you dismiss this as a trite 80’s song, think about it from a Biblical perspective. One of the really interesting things about God’s love is that we have to believe it:

1 John 4:16 – So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

This makes so much sense, when you think about it. Consider a father who loves his child deeply, and wants only the best for her. He raises her in love, corrects her when she’s wrong, and teaches her how to be a good adult. But during those teen years, isn’t it true that a parent’s love is sometimes not felt? It’s there. It’s being displayed. But it’s not being believed. It’s being misunderstood, mistrusted, or mistaken altogether for something else.

Most parents reading this are shaking their heads “yes.” There might be a teen or two reading this who disagrees, but give it a few years and you’ll understand better what I’m saying. Love can be poured out, but the object of our love has the option of choosing to disbelieve it.

But John says “we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” We have come to know it. That means there was a time when we didn’t know it, and coming to know it was a process.

But we have also come to believe it. How do you “believe” God’s love? It’s easier in theory than in practice, but it takes setting aside the mistrust we might have learned, and accepting the fact that God’s desire—his heart—is to love you and know you. God is a loving father who wants a good relationship with his son or daughter, not a dysfunctional one. Why else would he describe himself as a good father? And why else would so many believers around the world describe God as a Good, Good Father? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe they’re on to something?

John goes on further to say that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” This says a lot about the nature of God’s love for us. It’s not a disinterested love, or a love that just works on paper. It’s a love that works in real life; a love that seeks to fill that core human need we all have to be loved, and which can only be filled adequately by our creator.

It won’t take long to read the entire book of 1 John to get the full context of this brash statement that there is no fear in love, but in the interest of space, let’s just take a look at a snippet:

1 John 4:7-21 – Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)

Drawing from my own experiences as a father, I have to acknowledge that there are times when instilling a healthy fear into younger kids especially is essential to keeping them safe. We all needed to have some fear of the consequences of our behavior; like running out into the street, or disappearing in a crowded place where bad people might be.

But if our entire relationship with our parents is based on fear of consequences rather than knowing and believing that they love us, that’s what’s called a dysfunctional home. As a foster family, my wife and I have spent years trying to pick up the pieces in the lives of kids who have had the trauma of not being raised in a loving home. We form our perception of the world at a very young age, and it is difficult to convince youth to trust adults enough to actually believe they are loved when their experiences teach them to the contrary.

Is it any different between us and God? If our (mis)understanding of him is formed at a young age, how hard is it to convince ourselves to believe that he really is the God of love he says he is? Doesn’t that seem a little too good to be true?

How hard is it to “come to know and to believe the love that God has for us?” And how hard is it to expel the fear that we learned at a young age in place of that love?

But for those who find themselves in that situation, the parent analogy may be your lifeline to know and believe the love that God has for you again. Because if your relationship with your child, if you have one, is not one of controlling them through fear, but persuading them through love, you have what you need to understand your relationship with the God of the universe. And now it can be built, as it should be, on love, not fear. But first you must come to know and believe the love God has for us.