Listen with Love
“How can a loving God create people destined for Hell?”
These are the words that came out of my dear friend’s mouth as we sat in a booth at a crowded Coney Island, where all good theological discussions happen. What do you say to a brother or sister in Christ who is wrestling with doubt? What do you do when they are staring at you, eyes glistening, heart breaking, desperately hoping you have the answers? You listen.
There is a myriad of theological topics one can wrestle with, but for my friend, it was the heart of God. This question, along with many others, can make people uncomfortable. Our discomfort often leads to us speaking recklessly, making meager attempts to alleviate the discomfort they and we feel. We see a fire and we want to put it out, so we talk and talk and talk…
Sometimes that works. Sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to speak truth in love, and instruct, and wrestle through the nitty gritty theology. But most of the time, when a brother or sister is in the depths of doubt, walking aimlessly through a dark night of the soul, the best and most loving thing we can do is listen. Listen, acknowledge their pain or frustration, and get familiar with living in the tension of, “I don’t know.”
The best and most loving thing we can do is listen.
So that is what I did. I listened as she shared her heart and I tried to understand where she was coming from. I learned about those she dearly loves who don’t know Jesus, and how it absolutely breaks her heart to imagine a loving God sending them to Hell. My heart broke, too.
I’m so grateful Jesus did not leave us hanging when He ascended, but promised us a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would dwell in us (John 16:13). I’m thankful no question is too big or too hard for our Lord to handle, and He empowers us, by His Spirit, to walk boldly and incarnate His presence in the midst of brokenness.
He empowers us, by His Spirit, to walk boldly and incarnate His presence in the midst of brokenness.
In that moment, the Spirit directed me to be His love, not just speak of it. If I address the issue of God’s love but neglect to exemplify it myself, I have failed. That kind of posture paints our gospel-sharing with a superficiality that makes it indigestible and even repulsive. No wonder Paul said, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
If I address the issue of God’s love but neglect to exemplify it myself, I have failed.
So that’s where we start. We listen in love, resting in the knowledge that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him, according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Once we have taken time to listen and acknowledge, a response, even if a simple one, is often necessary. Take comfort in knowing you do not need to know all the answers. Romans 8:26 says,
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Sometimes you will know what to say, other times the best thing you can say is, “I don’t know the answer, but I will be praying.”
The greatest way to know and discern God’s voice in these moments is to become familiar with His Word. Scripture is the self-revelation of God. The more we familiarize ourselves with its narrative, seeking to understand more deeply who God is and what He has spoken, our ears will become attuned to His voice. In 1 John 4:7–12 it says,
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
God chooses to use us as vessels to demonstrate His love. We must tell of His love, yes, but first we must be His love.
I wish I could say I made all her doubts and fears go away as we sat together in Coney Island. What I can say is she felt loved and safe, and that was a victory. Doubt can cause a person to isolate themselves, especially in a faith community. This is why it’s so important to cultivate communities allowing people to voice their deepest and darkest concerns, not turning them away or dismissing their pain, but welcoming it.