If there was ever a question with a predictable answer - at least among Christians - here it is: "Does God love me?" Of course He does. God loves everyone, doesn't He? I mean, we all know there's only one acceptable answer to the question. Even if we don't really believe the answer.
A more interesting question might be, "Does God like me?" That, as they say, is "a whole 'nother matter."
As I have asked people these two questions, invariably they answer, without hesitation, yes, God loves me. But very often, when I ask the second question, they get a distant look, sort of a sad expression, and shaking their head, they say, "No, I don't think so."
This is profoundly sad, and I would argue it's also untrue.
A couple days ago - Memorial Day - we had a cookout at our house. Nothing unusual, right? We had 30 people, including 10 Americans, and 20 Burmese refugees. A little more unusual, but still not a big deal. We've done it before with fewer Americans and more Burmese. Getting to be routine.
The big deal for me was the weather forecast: rain. Heavy rain and thunderstorms, all day. And in this case, the forecast was correct. In the morning, it poured. Mid-day, it poured. All day Sunday, I prayed, and all Monday morning, I prayed. And mid-day, I prayed. "Please, Lord, stop the rain. Please, please, please. God, do you love me? Stop the rain!"
We told people to come after 3, and at 3:01 the first group of our Burmese friends arrived. I was lighting the fire, planning that we would eat at 4:00. And praying. Our house is not a large one, and 30 people with food inside is not pleasant to consider.
A few minutes after 3, the rain stopped. And we had sunshine and dry weather until the last couple left at about 7:00, when it began pouring again. I was happy. God loves me. I think God even likes me.
But here's the thing: God truly does love me, and I'm confident - from scripture - that He even likes me. And that would be true even if it had rained all over our cookout.
It's important to base our status with God on what He says, and not on how we feel.
God loves us! And God likes us! The fact that we have trouble with that second one is because we generally don't much like ourselves. And since - we think - nobody knows me better than I know me, and I don't think I'm such hot stuff, it reasonably follows that God doesn't think so, either.
Jesus calls us his friends. Do you make friends with people you don't like? Neither does He.
It's not uncommon in our culture for us to struggle with a sense of self worth. Many of us put up a front, and are unwilling to let others know us, or even know ourselves, because of what we think we are.
But here's the truth: We are of great value. We are God's prized possession. Jesus not only likes us, He values us enough to die so that we could know him and the Father. That's the truth. It's what God said. And the best thing we can do is keep repeating it to ourselves until it gets firmly stuck in our heads. It's the truth: God loves me, and God likes me.
And it would be true even if He had not stopped the rain.