On April 23, 1962, Karl Barth (the renown 20th Century Swiss-German, neo-orthodox theologian) spoke at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago. Many have reported that, during the Q & A time, a student asked Karl Barth, if he could summarize his theology in a single sentence. As the story goes, Barth responded by saying, "In the words of a song I learned at my mother's knee: 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'" Whether or not this story will ever be historically validated or not, the statement itself is one of the most profound biblical and theological truths; and, with Andy Stanley's recent outlandish rejection of this truth (take time to read the excellent critiques offered by David Prince and Mike Kruger), it is all the more important that we are settled on this issue when we come to answer the question, "How do I know that Jesus loves me?"
In recent years, myriads of books have been written to seek to convince men--and particularly women--of the love of Christ. Jesus Calling is one such example. Instead of rooting the subjective experience of the love of Christ in the objective revelation of His love in Scripture, authors and teachers often seek to root the subjective experience of the love of Christ in the subjective, immediate revelation of Christ to individuals. On the surface, doing so seems to offer people a more easily attainable experience of the love of Christ. Instead of calling people to commit to a diligent study and patient continuance in the word of God, many writers and teachers encourage a mystical experience that shortcuts the need for biblical revelation. In doing so, they actually rob individuals of the great need they have to know and to be established in the love of Christ by means of the revelation of His love in Scripture.
The quest for a subjective experience of the love of Christ apart from Scripture also often comes in the form of superstitious readings of nature or providence. One sees a rainbow or a beautiful sunset and thinks, "This is a sign of God's love for me." Someone narrowly escapes a near-death incident and thinks, "Now I know that God loves me!" While we readily acknowledge that the rainbow (i.e. the sign of God's covenant mercy) and the magnificently colorful sky "declare the glory of God and show forth his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1)--and, while it is true that God reveals his overflowing goodness in the protection of His creatures by virtue of His kind providences--the reflection of His glory in creation and providence is insufficient to bring men to a saving knowledge of Christ, and are no sure mark of His saving love for His people.
The problem with adopting a superstitious approach with regard to the love of God is that such an approach does not account for the hardship, trials and suffering experienced by those upon whom God has set His great love in Christ. The Scriptures are clear that those whom God loves from the foundation of the world, and for whom Christ died, are often those who suffer the most in this life. If I know and am assured of the love of God for me by seeing the beauty of creation and the kind providences of life, how will I interpret natural disasters--not to mention the dark, hard and painful providences that I experience personally? While natural disasters and personal suffering may be a sign of God's judgment, they may also be signs of His chastening love (Heb. 12:5-11)--as well as trials designed to drive me to Him more and more. We can never conclude that a sunset is a mark of God's saving love (Matt. 5:45) but physical affliction a mark of His righteous indignation (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
The only objective evidence of the saving love of God and Christ for His people is the cross on which Jesus died. The Apostle Paul made this abundantly clear when he wrote, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8) and "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). As Augustine illustratively put it, "The cross was the pulpit in which Christ preached His love." The doctrine of special revelation teaches us that we can only know of the crucified Savior, and the meaning of His crucifixion, by means of the Scriptures. It was by means of the Scripture and the sacrament that the risen Jesus opened the eyes of the two on the road to Emmaus to know and understand what He had accomplished in His death and resurrection (Luke 24:13-35). It was by means of the Old Testament that the resurrected Jesus taught these things to His disciples (Luke 24:44-47).
As a pastor, I long to see the men, women, boys and girls of our congregation established in the revelation of the love of Christ in the Scriptures. While multitudes are searching for immediate mystical experiences, or looking to creation or experience, to lay hold of the knowledge of the love of Christ, we must run to the Scriptures to lay hold of Christ crucified. As we do, we will begin to understand the profundity the statement, "Jesus Loves Me This I Know, for the Bible Tells Me So."