Does God Love Us Just as We Are?

It’s popular these days to hearing something along the lines of:  “always remember, you are loved just as you are!”

To paraphrase one author, ‘You are loved, worthy and beautiful. You are enough – just as you are. And nothing, and no one can ever change that.’

It’s a lovely sentiment – and something we really do love to believe…about ourselves and about God.

Most often, this message includes an emphasis on “being who you really are” and “accepting who you really are” as central to health and happiness – and therefore, something surely pleasing to God.

“You are who you are,” people are told, “you just need to accept it.”  After all, you need to be “whoever God made you to be.”

This is often characterized as a kind of enlightenment and discovery regarding “true love” – typically set in contrast to others’ teaching on love. Compared to other views of love, for instance, this view aims to affirm the “perfection” of people…just as they are – with other teachings about love, by default, seen as (inherently) hateful, judgmental, and “un-Christlike.”

Does that include Jesus?

On one level, any who know Christ are acutely aware of how much His love meets us in this very (present) moment:  that generosity, grace, compassion…Any who have approached the Almighty seeking repentance have experienced this welcoming embrace first-hand. And it’s something all prophets have taught.

But the prophets don’t stop there. Especially those who have encountered Jesus personally say something more:

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25-26).

Once the Lord meets us in his uniquely gracious way, what does He say next?

“And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (3 Nephi 11: 37-38).

It’s worth pointing out:  MUST is a word Americans NEVER use – so forceful as to be almost pejorative in our modern culture. But Jesus used it – including in this, His message to the traumatized people of Nephi soon after they met personally. Despite their fragile state, Jesus made it very clear what He intended to do for (and within) anyone willing to follow Him. He intended to change them. Elsewhere, Alma describes this as the “mighty change” that God Himself can work in us.

Returning again, to the question:  Is God’s love so “unconditional” that He doesn’t care about anything but ‘who we are’?

My own experience is that after connecting with us enough to confirm His love, Jesus invites us to give Him our hearts – to surrender, to yield and to let Him change us.

“And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved” (Omni 1:26).

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).

Rather than you and I being ‘enough’ to God (just as we are), the teaching of scripture seems to point toward a very different message.

On one level, it’s true that there is fundamental wholeness and goodness in each of our spirits and core ‘selves’ that reflects divine DNA.  On another level, however, it’s also true that those spirits (and selves) can be – and are – hijacked by all sorts of things as we come into world…things that are not reflective of who we really are.

Buddhists speak of this as a “delusion” we are all born into.  Christians call it “the fallen world” – both of which can presumably blind us to things as they really are and socialize us away from our “true self.”

Although the scope and limits of this fallen impact are debated, most Christians would agree that the body, mind, heart and spirit itself can be weighed down, deformed and held in bondage in various ways and degree. As for the Buddhists, they similarly insist that we are all “born into delusion” (not just the “schizophrenics”).

If that’s true, then it makes sense that some kind of redemption and deliverance (or awakening and enlightenment) is also needed. From a place of personal, emotional and even biological captivity, we might even expect this process of deliverance and waking up to be, at times, outright excruciating…Maybe that’s why the prophets say things like this, in reference to God’s people:

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (translated elsewhere as crucifying certain “passions and desires”) (Galatians 5:24)

“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6)

If I am reading our theology right, aspects of ‘who we are right now’ may need to be literally destroyed – in order for God to create something else. That’s certainly been painfully true of my own experience.

As is often the case, C.S. Lewis puts it best:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Mere Christianity)

If Lewis and Alma are right, our God intends this life as a process of becoming…one that radically changes us.

Rather than ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ or ‘whole’ as we naturally are, the gospel message is that we become fully whole, perfect and good through Him (and only through Him).  As described in modern scripture, “just” individuals are “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:69).

Instead of insisting we are ‘enough,’ then, the gospel message is that Jesus is enough:  “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Rather than some self-help project of reducing our errors by our own hard work, this is about becoming whole or “perfected” in Christ (Moroni 10:32). Whatever work is needed to arrive at this point, He is the one who does it – not simply us, for as Paul says ,“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 1:6).

While popular voices in society will continue saying, “this is who you are, this is how life is going to be.” The Lord so often says something else, “NO – this is not who you are and how your life has to be. There is such a mighty change of heart.  And you are a child of God!”

To be very clear:  it’s true our Father God loves us right now …whatever is happening. This doesn’t mean, however, that He loves ‘who we are’ without conditions…Instead, because He loves us, His work is to radically change and shape that ‘who we are’ in a pattern where we become something far, far more glorious than we currently believe ourselves to be.

If that’s true, then maybe it’s time to stop mistaking being loved where we are for being loved ‘just as we are.’

From a mindfulness writer that Elder Christofferson quoted in his most recent address, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s work in your life is bigger than the story you’d like that life to tell. His life is bigger than your plans, goals, or fears. To save your life, you’ll have to lay down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, give your life back to him” (Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon, 2014, 17–18).

9 responses

  1. “God is love” (1 John 4:16), is evidence of His goodness, not ours. Pres. Uchtdorf reminds us of one of the many paradoxes found in the scriptures, “compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God” (General Conference, Oct. 2011, You Matter to Him). After all, it is His work and his glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, to help us become as He is (Moses 1:39).
    The CS Lewis comparison reminds me of the Allegory of the Olive Tree. The Lord of the vineyard does all that he can to save the trees that they may produce good fruit. It also reminds me of Hugh B. Brown’s talk, God is the Gardener, where he talks of being pruned and cut back to create something better. (https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/hugh-b-brown_god-gardener/)

  2. Jared, I appreciate your work and the careful thought you put into this. I can see how this would be a beautifully eloquent entry for a current Mormon. Is there any way you can write more about this topic, using your gift for speaking a little more across the divide to former Mormons who are now secular humanists? It can be difficult to extract the meaning of “God,” “Christ,” and lengthy excerpts from a book that no longer carries the authority for us as it once did…it requires us to try to translate those concepts into something we currently understand. You are one of the few current Mormon writers I know who has the perspective to see from “the other side,” and that is always welcome. Without that, we may have little contact with Mormon concepts at all. Thanks.

    • I’ve been intrigued by your comment, Scott – and munching on it for over a week now…although much of what I write here tends to be geared to current Mormons – as you intuit, it’s in my heart to step beyond that (thanks for the kind words).

      I’ve considered generalizing this essay in the future, but for now – this is my best (and shorter) attempt at a response to your question. The revised essay would be called something like,

      “Is the person we experience ourselves to be in this moment – thoughts, feelings, sensations – who we are fundamentally?”

      Increasingly, it seems in America as if our sense of identity is based off of our current experience – whatever that is. Not into mornings? Must be a ‘Night person’…Easily irritated and willing to push people around? Must be a ‘Type A’…Moods fluctuating up and down these days? Surely, that means you ARE bipolar (not facing it, mind you – and not just experiencing fluctuations in mood…).

      In each of these examples, notice how quick we are to throw out the ‘to be verb’ in reference to all sorts of things. Other cultures have not always been so quick to identify themselves with passing experience. The Buddha himself, for instance, taught this kind of grasping for identification (with SOMETHING) as one of the three main sources of suffering.

      And it turns out he might have been on to something. After all, depending on how we define ourselves, it turns out that all sorts of other things follow. As Henri-Dominique Lacordaire once stated, “It is not a slight thing, gentlemen, [for] a man to say what he is, or what he believes himself to be; for that supreme word of man, that single expression which he utters of and upon himself is decisive. It lays down the basis upon which all judgment of him is to be formed. From that moment all the acts of his life must correspond to the answer given by him.”

      Are there dangers to grasping on to aspects of our current experience and saying, “gosh darn it – THAT is who I am?”

      From a mindfulness perspective, the answer is…maybe! Perhaps, of course, it’s a GREAT thing to do that – allowing us to find more acceptance of self and ‘feel more ourselves.’

      On the other hand, maybe we’ve just deepened our walk with delusion by identifying with something transient that doesn’t quite reflect ‘who we are’ fundamentally.

      The key point, from a Buddhist perspective, is not to cling and grasp *too much* onto our stories and interpretations of who we are – at least not to the degree that we cannot *learn more*…

      This clip from Jon Kabat-Zinn (Starting at 35:04 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd6ktroFf8Q) captures for me an especially healthy mentality when it comes to identity:
      “Who we think we are and who we actually are…are *very* different. And the narrative of who we think takes over an enormous amount of time and energy in our heads. And the irony is that we’re much *bigger* than who we think we are – no matter how big we think we are or how diminished and small we think we are. It’s like – it’s just thinking! It’s not the actuality of who we are…*at all.* So if you take any of this to heart, then you can embrace yourself in a way that embodies dignity, self-respect, loving-kindness, self-compassion…and then there’s really no boundary – the skin is not the boundary of who we are.”

      I love how Jon combines a degree of healthy acceptance of who we see ourselves to be (in this moment), with a sense of mystery and majesty at the possibility there is *way* more to learn and understand – aka, an awareness that, ‘gosh, I could be *totally* wrong about who I am too.’

      It’s hard not to recognize the parallels between Jon’s statement – and this one from a Christian author: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s work in your life is bigger than the story you’d like that life to tell. His life is bigger than your plans, goals, or fears. To save your life, you’ll have to lay down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, give your life back to him” (Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon, 2014, 17–18).

      Whatever one’s view of God, maybe there’s some common ground here. Broadly speaking, rather than insisting that we (or those we love) accept ‘who we experience ourselves to be’ as ‘perfectly good and right’ or ‘exactly who we are,’ what would it mean to build a little more spaciousness into our conversation about self?

      -Maybe we *don’t* have to insist that all we see in our current experience is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’…
      -Maybe we *don’t* have to cling to a finished-and-complete narrative of identity (however convicted we may be of certain aspects)…
      -Maybe we could approach our moment by moment experiences with a little more curiosity, adventure and *awe* in the unfolding experience of learning about (and becoming) this thing called “who we really are”?

      Whether you phrase that in terms of eternal progression or human evolution, that might just be a fun ‘place to be’ (and become) when it comes to identity.

  3. “On another level, however, it’s also true that those spirits (and selves) can be – and are – hijacked by all sorts of things as we come into world…things that are not reflective of who we really are.”

    Jacob, do you believe LGBT persons have been hijacked by something when they are born that’s not reflective of who they really are? What is the “something”?

    • Power question, Ron…we’re going to have to meet in person one of these days!

      My own belief is that we ALL are hijacked by something not reflective of who we really are – sometime, somewhere…as an inescapable side-effect of living in this world and the human condition.

      More than saying ‘we’re all sinners,’ for me this arises from simply swimming in the fallen world: gay-identifying, non-gay-identifying, liberal, conservative, religious, or not…we’re all ‘born into delusion’ and the process of ‘waking up’ to discover who we really are is not a simple one.

      This clip from Jon Kabat-Zinn (Starting at 35:04) captures for me a healthy mentality – combining a genuine acceptance of who we see ourselves to be, with a sense of mystery and majesty at the possibility there is *way* more to learn and understand: “Who we think we are and who we actually are…are *very* different. And the narrative of who we think takes over an enormous amount of time and energy in our heads. And the irony is that we’re much *bigger* than who we think we are – no matter how big we think we are or how diminished and small we think we are. It’s like – it’s just thinking! It’s not the actuality of who we are…*at all.* So if you take any of this to heart, then you can embrace yourself in a way that embodies dignity, self-respect, loving-kindness, self-compassion…and then there’s really no boundary – the skin is not the boundary of who we are.”

      Would love to discuss more of this in person sometime or on the phone…

      • Jacob, keep in mind that Jon Kabat-Zinn does not believe in God. I’ve never heard him speak of LGBT persons as needing salvation from their condition. On the other hand, the LDS church teaches that LGBT persons are flawed in some way and the flaw can be overcome with the help of God. Here’s a website showing how mindfulness can help the LGBT person appreciate their identity instead of thinking there is something wrong with them.
        http://smartgaylife.com/mindfulness-lgbt-experience/

      • Certainly, Ron – I’ve got a different take on mindfulness and identity than Jon (or most in that community) would. Heck, I’d probably be considered a heretic according to many given how much of the dharma I still wrestle with…

        And to be sure, the interpretation you reference in this post is likely the dominant one in the (very progressive) mindfulness community. That being said, in fairness, I would have to say that the spirit of the teaching as I understand it is to not cling to *any* particular view of self – whether ‘I am a child of God’ or I am heterosexual’ or ‘I am homosexual,’ etc….and at the very least, to hold each of them – all of them – with a light touch…enough so to leave open the possibility of being further taught by our own experience – and even, potentially, to be shown otherwise by that experience (a prospect equally unsettling to *all* of us – introducing, as it does, equally revolutionary possibilities that experience itself may well teach us – ‘hmmm, maybe all that child of God talk was balderdash…hmmm maybe I’m not fundamentally homosexual’ etc. etc. etc).

        Neither, of course, would a mindfulness perspective press people to push away or avoid an insight or understanding that resonates or rings true to us (whether about ourselves or life, etc)…but certainty to be attentive to how we hold them all – with a gentle touch, open to upgrades, watching for clinging…On that note, based on my conversation with Jon over breakfast at a retreat, I would be surprised if he *didn’t* believe in God. He won’t ever say that – not given the “job on the planet” that is his (e.g., we never use the word ‘spiritual’ in MBSR – and I think it’s a good policy, considering the aim of the class). But let’s just say, the life *experience* he has shared with us and others seems to align pretty magically with the notion of divinity. (:

  4. Thanks for your reply, I can see I didn’t go wrong in asking for it…masterfully written and just what I was looking for.

    I hope you’ll consider making a “translated” version of all your posts…I really do love the concepts and it’s not easy to find them in a baggage-free context.

    Sometimes I think the way we choose our sources is largely dependent on their style of delivery or overall aesthetic. I don’t have much access to many of the principles of the gospel anymore because so many of the words seem to turn my brain off on contact. I have tried to get past this but it remains a formidable task. But when a (shall I say ‘less liberal’) principle is articulated in (what is for me) a neutral way, it is refreshing and reminds me that my current worldview is limited. It rings true on a deeper level. You might say that there is a famine in the land, and some of us know not where to find [it]…

    I think many (most?) of us really do cut ourselves off from intellectual (and spiritual) diversity and stay within the confines of what is delivered in a familiar way, then lose the inclination to believe that there exist truths (worth mentioning) outside of our explanations of the world. In other words, What We See is All There Is (Daniel Kahnemann).

    So in my view you have tapped into a much needed role with your pursuit of dialogue. (No pressure:))

    • Thanks, Scott. I’m really encouraged by your words…especially loving your point about “cutting ourselves off from intellectual (and spiritual) diversity” => then “losing the inclination to believe that there exist truths outside of our explanations of the world.” Scary – especially since it is so apropos in the world around us (and descriptive of seemingly *every* community – right and left, secular and liberal, east and west).

      I really do hope that the finished product Mindfully Mormon book is very much a translation piece – much more than an idealogical one. Maybe I shall have to draft you into the writing collaborative that’s bringing it to completion…yeah, nay? (hey, we can’t all be crazy TBM’s!) (:

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