In Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent is astonished to learn that his friend, Ford, is actually an alien gathering data about earth for an intergalactic travel guide. However Arthur is grievously disheartened to find out that the sum total of all the culture, history and diversity of earth is summed up in a single word in the guide–harmless. It doesn’t help when Ford explains that due to his research, the listing will be expanded to … mostly harmless.
The comedic effect works because we are used to distilling everything down to a word or a catch phrase. We can argue the merits of that, but we run into trouble when we do it to each other. We are quick to label, pigeonhole and dismiss others. We’ve seen how difficult it is for someone to live down a past mistake, overcome a family reputation or escape a preconception. It’s even worse if that person is us.
Words like failure, addict, or victim permeate our sense of self. They hinder us from letting go, from moving on, from taking a firm hold of God’s promises to us. There was a young woman in the book of Genesis who could be saddled with a number of labels: foreigner, outcast, victim of petty jealousy… Her name was Hagar.
However, in chapter 16, in the moment of her deepest despair, she saw God. More importantly, she realized God saw her. He saw beyond her past, her reputation and even the ideas she harbored about herself. In the brief promise He spoke, He demonstrated He understood the deep concerns and fears of her heart and He was willing and able to address them.
It’s no different with us. God doesn’t condense us down to a single simple label. He sees us in the totality of who we are — our hopes, dreams, good intentions as well as our potential. He also sees our prejudices, our shortcomings, our deepest depravity. When Almighty God looks at the entirety of our heart, mind and soul, He responds in a way only God could, in a way only He would.
The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Jeremiah 31:3 NKJV
If you can’t get away from labels, make sure this is the one you cling to – “loved”.