It's one of those questions I’ve struggled with for years—one of those heart-deep questions whose answer you know will change you, and yet you barely dare to hope: I know God loves me, but is He pleased with me?
As preposterous as it seems, can I dare to think that those words the Father spoke over Jesus at his baptism apply not only to Jesus but also to me? Not just the part about “you are my beloved son,” but also “with you I am well pleased?”
I read through Julie Canlis' A Theology of the Ordinary, each page of this tiny book—just sixty pages long—holding news that my heart aches for.
The good news of God's pleasure unfolds in clear black print on the white page,
“In the baptism, the Father singles out Jesus not only for His obedience, but also because this obedience has the mark of sonship. Slavish obedience could never save because what must be restored to our humanity is filial love [the love of a son or daughter].”
Canlis, A Theology of the Ordinary, p. 34, bold mine.
This is where I've gotten stuck. I’ve wondered how God could be pleased with me when, by my own standards, I fall short. I’ve presumed that while God’s love is gracious and free, his pleasure in me rests, as did my growing-up culture’s, on achievement, behaviour, a striving to be perfect.
But God (as usual!) sees differently. I read the words slowly, giving each sentence time to sink in and come to life in me:
“It is not the heroic nature of our Christian life that is pleasing to God. Nor is it the slim righteousness of obedience to law. It is sonship—communion with God as children of the Father in the everydayness of life. It establishes our righteousness as that relationship of love between Father and Son.”
p. 34, bold mine.
She goes on to explain,
“When we are baptized, we pass through the waters (which signify death) into this relationship—and into this declaration of divine love, spoken for us as well.”
p. 34, bold mine.
It’s not surprising we struggle to hear it.
“This [declaration of divine love] is nearly impossible to hear. Our fallen nature makes hearing the Father’s love for us so difficult. Our ears are plugged. Our eyes are blind. Thus, as Calvin says, Jesus hears the words that we cannot believe on our own: you are my beloved. When we are living in Christ, we are enveloped in these words and set free from performance anxiety, from workaholism, from fear of failure. Even as mature Christians, continuing to live from this center can be the hardest part of discipleship (2 Cor 5:21).”
p.34-35, bold mine.
I'm relieved by those final words. Yes, I think this, for me, is the hardest part of discipleship. And yet, there's hope here too. Even while I keep leaning in and asking for grace and doing what I can to soak in God's love and delight, Jesus is here alongside, doing on my behalf what I can't yet fully and freely do, and continuing his work of helping me learn to trust.
As Canlis summarizes, "What is [Jesus] doing to my humanity in his baptism?"
“Teaching it to hear ‘beloved’ in the midst of my ordinary life.
And He, as the true human, is accepting these words with joy, on my behalf.”
As we cling close to Jesus, making our home in his love, may Jesus continue to do in us what only he can do, giving us grace to hear and receive for ourselves, in and through him, the Father's delight in us.
P.S. "He loves you. Yes, we know that. But also—he really likes you." If you want a little more help soaking in the delight of our joyful God who not only loves us but also likes us and delights in us, have a listen to this sermon. (It starts at the 40 min mark, and near the beginning there's a lovely story that helps me see all over again how different my fears are from the reality of how God sees me.)