Most of us have heard the phrase it’s the thought that counts. Maybe we even said it (or thought it) opening a Christmas gift not long ago! Unfortunately, sometimes a friend or family member gives us a gift that flops. Still, we try not to be disappointed. We know that they care; but we also know they can’t see inside our head and know exactly what we would like or not like. So we try not to blame them for giving a gift that we didn’t find particularly interesting, enjoyable, or useful.
But when the God of the Bible gives a gift, he doesn’t have those human limitations. He can see inside our thoughts and knows everything about our life. God knows exactly what we like, exactly what we want, and exactly what we need. And God is not restricted in his ability to give; he has ultimate power to give us whatever he wants, however he wants, whenever he wants. So when God gives a gift, it’s not just his thought that counts; it’s his gift that counts.
I think that’s why we can become puzzled by the things that God gives us when they don’t line up with what we want. Maybe it’s more accurate to say we get puzzled by what God doesn’t give us. We have desires we’d like fulfilled, yet he hasn’t fulfilled them. We have problems we’d like solved, and yet those problems persist. We would like to avoid suffering and pain, and yet we still hurt. And we can’t rationalize away our confusion by supposing that God didn’t know any better. God knows exactly how we feel and how our life is affected. Perhaps we try not to blame God, but this question still creeps into our thoughts: How can God really love me, if he’s letting this happen to me?
I find that in my life God almost never answers that question directly. He rarely reveals why he lets a particular pain happen to me, or why he doesn’t deliver me from some ongoing trouble. But he does turn my thoughts away from what he hasn’t given me, and reminds me of what he has already given: the gift of Jesus.
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. –Jesus (John 3:16 CSB)
John 3:16 contains the most well-known words of Jesus. Most English translations phrase Jesus saying something like, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” That phrasing is technically correct, but it can unfortunately leave the impression that Jesus was emphasizing how much God has loved us. Actually, Jesus was emphasizing the way God has loved us. God’s Son is the way that God has loved the world. Out of all the gifts that God has given, and out of all the gifts that God could have given, this one Gift is the essence of God’s love for us. God has given many other gifts, but every other gift of God pales in comparison to the gift of Jesus.
Even though I believe this, I can still find myself wishing for something more immediate. The gift of Jesus, two thousand years ago, doesn’t fully answer my questions about why God sometimes won’t end suffering or prevent some disaster or give me a dearly wanted desire. But from an eternal perspective, Jesus does answer my question of whether or not God cares. Through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, God has already done the most loving thing and given the thing that cost him the most. That’s the way that God has loved us.