This week I’m writing about divine declaration. Hope you all are having a great Fall and hello from Ethiopia!
Imagine living your life by embracing that you are lovely and loved by God simply because you exist. Fully accepted at your core. Causing delight. Celebrated as you are created.
Imagine breathing that in and allowing it to oxygenate and illuminate your entire being, even the deepest and darkest parts of your self.
This was the essence of God’s first and only message to Jesus throughout his entire ministry.
God’s words to Jesus are utterly profound and beautiful:
“You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22)
In other words: “Child, I love you. I’m happy with you.”
The phrase “whom I love” translates agapetos – my beloved, the cherished one. The Greek word for “well pleased” (eudokeo) communicates goodness, delight, pleasure: “You are good, delightful, pleasurable.”
It appears that God understands our deeply human fear that we are ultimately unlovely and unworthy of love in the depths of who we are. From God’s words, it also appears that Jesus knew this haunting inner pain. By this point, Jesus had survived an atrocious political massacre, experienced childhood as a refugee in Egypt, and grown up in a rural town synonymous with mockery. All so often, this primal fear sets off a desperate struggle to perform, to prove, to project that we are something worthy of love. It may also lead to a numbed existence with a running inner voice of insult and rejection.
Thus, from the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry – before he gives any sermon, before he performs any miracle, before he has done any thing that could seemingly earn love – God makes this absolute, unilateral declaration: You are my child. I love you. I’m happy with you. Yes, now, as you are – before you have done any thing.
Of course, Christians believe that Jesus was and is God’s Child in a special way (Hebrews 1:1-7). Jesus himself would later say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). This ultimate claim to oneness with God would seem to make God’s words to Jesus unnecessary, obvious, even irrelevant. Couldn’t God’s love for Jesus be taken for granted?
And still God declares this for Jesus to hear from the beginning: “I love you. I’m happy with you.” God lavishes this declaration of affection and approval on Jesus. Apparently hearing these words was of the utmost importance, even for Jesus.
On the other hand, given Jesus and God’s oneness, we might expect the spiritual record of Jesus’s life to contain endless words from God like this – a journal of divine whispers and revelations.
But that is not what we find. In fact, we find a radical simplicity and univocity – a single message. God says one thing and one thing only to Jesus: “You are my beloved child. I am happy with you.”
God says this to Jesus at the very beginning of his career. God says it again – word for word – at a crucial turning point in Jesus’s career as he faces rejection and suffering (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35; 2 Peter 1:17).
Then, before Jesus’s brutal execution and ultimate act of nonviolent sacrifice, God echoes this singular message a third time: “I have glorified your name and will glorify it again” (John 12:28). (The Greek words for “glorify” and “well pleased” share the same root.) This is simply another way of celebrating Jesus’s loveliness and delightfulness. Your name is full of light and goodness. You are glorious.
This is God’s only message to Jesus in the record we are given.
I am struck that God says this to Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus has not said anything. Jesus has not done anything. Jesus has not proven any return on investment. Jesus has not built any momentum or started saving the world. Aside from some behind-the-scenes glimpses, Jesus remains a stranger, a nobody, a nonentity. And yet God lavishes this abundant and absolute word of delight on him without hesitation: “Child, you are lovely. I’m happy with you.”
We could easily imagine God saying other things to Jesus at the launch of his vocation.
“Son, work hard and don’t fail me.” This message seeks to motivate performance by the fear of failure. It communicates a subtle but terrifying contingency: You need to work to earn my love. If you fail, you are worthless. Enslave yourself to performance.
“Son, the fate of the world hangs on your shoulders. Don’t forget it.” This message seeks to motivate performance by internalizing pressure. You must always be on your game. Your worth is the enormity of your project. You can’t rest or be full until it is finished.
“Son, your ministry is going to be amazing! Change the world!” This message seeks to motivate performance by the anticipation of success and the desire for greatness. It mixes pride with anxiety: You are exceptional. No one compares to you or will do what you do.
But God doesn’t say anything to Jesus about failure or destiny or success or Jesus’s performance at all. God says something definitive, absolute, and personal to Jesus about Jesus: “You are my beloved son. I’m happy with you.”
This is who you are: loved. This is how I feel about you: happy.
What if God also says this to each one of us? What if in the heart of God, this is God’s one and only message to each of God’s children: Andrew, you are my beloved son. I’m happy with you. Lily, you are my beloved daughter. I’m delighted with you. Dawit, you are my beloved son. You bring me joy. Birukti, you are my beloved daughter. You are a source of pleasure.
And what if this is really everything we need to hear from God? What if this one seed contains the DNA for the heart, brain, eyes, ears, feet, and hands of a full-bodied relationship with God? I love you. Your life makes me happy. Come home to being loved simply because you exist. Hidden inside this word of love is God’s other words, “Let there be light. Return to me. I am making all things new.”
In the life of Jesus, that was all. And that was everything.
I believe Jesus had this divine declaration in mind when he taught his students to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Mathew 6:9; Luke 11:2). Notice that when Jesus received this original message of love, the text says the heavens were opened and he heard the voice of his Father (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Jesus turns around and teaches us to begin our every prayer by interrupting other voices and invoking our heavenly Father who declares, “You are my beloved child. I‘m delighted with you.” (I love that Jesus says “our Father.” In some of his last words, Jesus speaks of “my Father and your Father, my God and your God” (John 20:17). Jesus’s Father is our Father.)
Many of us live with a nagging, gnawing sense that we are unlovely, unworthy, unloveable. We believe that love must be earned, and we could never do enough or do good enough to deserve love. There is an excruciating emptiness and shattering rejection inside: You are nothing. This is your secret truth, and you know it. The closer others get to you, the more they will know it too. You must hide yourself or die.
But before we have done anything and when everything seems to be falling apart, the heavens open and a voice speaks – only one voice, spoken again and again: You are my beloved child. I delight in you.
Hearing this voice of absolute divine love is the essential vocation of humanity. It is our ultimate happiness, greatest challenge, and the way to total restoration. With all the joy in the universe, this voice nakedly attacks our shame and embraces us with unembarrassed celebration.
Just because we exist.
Today I invite you to stop and breathe this into your entire being:
I am God’s beloved child. God delights in me.
Next week I will look at what it means to exhale this divine breath with others.