In the early years of my marriage I struggled deeply with anger. While I still struggle in this area, the amount of anger I spent on Josh in those early years was much greater than it is now. The change in my heart – and marriage – didn’t come from learning anger management techniques (helpful as those might be) or counting to ten and breathing through my nose. The progress in my marriage began with the affection of God.
As unrelated as these two things might sound, our acceptance of God’s love is deeply connected to our ability to love others – spouses in particular. I didn’t realize how deep this connection ran until I tried to love Josh well without accepting God’s love for me.
Knowing God’s Affection
Jude 1:21 says “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ”. I love that verb – keep. And it makes me ask the question: “Do I remain in the love of God, recognizing, believing, and trusting it, or do I intellectualize it and lose the power of His affection?”
God’s love is woven throughout Scripture from beginning to end. Just by creating Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-2 God poured out His communal nature into humanity; He did not need us. He wanted us. And He wanted us knowing full well how much we would hurt Him.
Love is His very character; the essence of His being. The psalmist celebrates this:
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15)
The hesed love of God is dependable because He is dependable. God’s love and justice are not two ends of a spectrum but two sides of the same coin – we can trust that God will always love us because God is just, and His justice makes Him perfectly good. And we can trust that God’s justice will always be fair and kind because God is perfectly loving.
In John’s letters to the church He emphasizes this point. Only when you know and believe God’s love can you effectively love others, he writes in 1 John 3-4. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!
An Affection-ed Identity
How many of us know God’s love in theory but do not accept it as daily truth? From this emptiness we attempt to love others. The trials and little annoyances of marriage quickly challenge this kind of hollowed-out love. Until we live in an “affectioned identity”, we will struggle to consistently love our spouses (or anyone!) without resentment.
Other authors call this affectioned identity “living as loved”. Because love is an overused word I prefer the term affection. Knowing that God has an unchanging affection for me reassures my heart when I feel insecure. I can return to Scripture’s truth in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Matthew, John, Psalms, Leviticus, and Zephaniah to see how dearly God loves His people. This truth centers my heart in the reality of God’s affection. My identity is loved child of God.
It’s much easier to love others when you aren’t hunting for love yourself. In the early years of marriage I “believed” God’s love, but I didn’t believe it for me. Love was a vague fact about God, not a living reality for my relationship with Him. And because I didn’t trust God’s love for me I lived under a sense of condemnation, fear, and a need to earn approval.
There is Nothing to Earn
Ephesians 2:8 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” We recite this verse, but do we recognize its impact? We do not have to prove ourselves to God. Christ proved our case. We do not have to earn our standing. Christ won it for us. There is nothing to earn or prove.
When I embrace these truths for myself, I am far less likely to require my spouse to earn my approval or prove himself to me.
Accepting my identity as a child of God, loved by Him, surrounded by His affection, frees me to love my spouse effectively. And as long as I reject God’s affection I struggle to be genuinely, unresentfully loving to the person closest to me.
We’re almost eight years into our marriage and those early, angry years aren’t so far away. But any difference we have today is because of God’s work in our relationship – and the acceptance of His affection.
How can you accept God’s affection for you today?
More on affection in my upcoming book The Flirtation Experiment, launching December 7th! Get the free chapters here!