Karl Barth was likely the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. He is best known as a prolific writer. His Church Dogmatics took more than thirty years to complete and is more than six million words long.
Late is his career Barth made a visit to the United Statesand lectured at the University of Chicago. The often-repeated story is that he was asked a last question before leaving the podium.
The question: “What is the most important insight to God you have ever discovered?” The aged Barth paused for only a moment, smiled, and answered, “Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so.”
Do you believe Jesus loves you? More to the point, do you believe God loves you? We sing it, preach it, and pray it. But by and large we do not believe it, no matter what the Bible says.
Atheism is not a problem for most of us. We believe in the existence of God. But we do not believe God really loves us. We are as suspicious of him as an irritable landlord who only comes around when the rent is due.
This misgiving is most noticeable in our inability to trust God. See, it’s hard to trust someone you quietly think is out to get you, so we try to keep God at a distance and handle things on our own. It’s always been this way.
In the Garden of Eden, what was it our archetypical parents, Adam and Eve, did there? They ate a piece of low-hanging fruit off of a forbidden tree. What was the name of that tree? It was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Our ancestors, and every human since, made this decision: “I will take up the knowledge of what is good and what is evil – for me. I will determine what is right and what is wrong – for me. I will trust no one else to do this for me – not even my Maker.”
Of course it was the serpent who planted this seed of distrust in the human heart when he suggested to Eve that God was holding out on her. The fateful decision was made and our forbearers got what they wanted: Self-rule, independence, freedom to choose their own path. The end result was heartache, destruction, and frustration.
Original sin is humanity’s inability to trust its Creator. It is the defiant “captain of our soul” way in which we refuse to believe God cares for us and has our best interests at heart. Sin is the human betrayal of divine love. It is rejection of the One who made us for himself. It is a chasing after ourselves, thinking our self-made freedom can make us happy.
Have you ever been betrayed? Not just lied to, mind you, or had the wool pulled over your eyes, or suffered the garden variety deception, but heart-wrenching, vow-breaking, betrayal? Do you know what it is like for someone you love to throw that love aside like they were stripping off a dirty shirt?
Do you know that violated feeling when a spouse or partner says, “I’ve found someone new,” or “I don’t love you anymore,” or “I just have to be free?” God does.
He created, granted life, loved, and wished to guide his children, but more times than not, he was rejected. So, he did the unthinkable. He created himself as a man and came to a world that was chasing after lesser lovers. He came to absorb all the pain and heartbreak of the world’s rejection.
It was a tearful, piercing, bloody affair to love and forgive like this. But this is what the cross is: It is God, humiliated and bleeding, bearing up underneath the betrayal and rebellion of His own creation who do not believe his love is enough.
I look at the suffering mess of the cross and I see what C. S. Lewis called the “only true language of forgiveness.” There Jesus says to me, “I know what you’ve done. I know how you have cheated on me. I know you want to go your own way. But I will bear the consequences, because this is how I love.”
And I can only respond with the words and melody of a child: “Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so.”