St. Margaret of Scotland
I've been a priest, confessor, and spiritual director for 17 yrs. I've served as a seminary/university professor and priest-formator for 13 of those yrs. Without hesitation, from my experience, I can tell you that the single most difficult truth for Christians to accept is that God's love is unconditionally, absolutely free. That is, there is literally nothing you and I can do to beg, borrow, steal, or earn God's love. And there is literally nothing we can do to make God cease loving us. Here's why: God is love. He is love by nature. Who He is is Love. God isn't someone above and beyond love Who loves. He isn't a super powerful human-like being Who loves this but not that. To be God is what it is to be love. We cannot beg, borrow, steal, or earn God's love b/c we cannot beg, borrow, steal, or earn God Himself. If God were to cease loving me, I would cease to exist. In fact, all of reality would cease to exist b/c God would cease to be love in failing to love me. So, how do you know – with absolute certainty – that God loves you? Easy. Do you exist? If you say, Yes, then God loves you. Freely, absolutely, unconditionally.
Now that that question is settled, we can move on to the more complicated question: do you love God? God loves b/c He is love. You and I are not love. We participate in His love (b/c we exist), but we are not love itself. IOW, we can sin. We can fail to love as we ought. This is where our problems start. One way of experiencing my sin is to feel or sense that God has stopped loving me. In the presence of Perfect Love, my imperfect love feels like abandonment. It feels like God has set me aside. Then, in my desolation, I start trying to earn back God's love with penances and prayers and weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Enemy cheers on our efforts to win God back b/c all our efforts keep hidden from us the one truth we find hard to accept: God's love for us is absolute, free, and unconditional. Nothing can keep God from us. But we are more than expert at keeping us from God. Our love for Him is almost always relative, bound, and conditional. So, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” What did he tell us? God is love. He – Christ – is in God's love. And we remain in His love by following His commandments. What is his command? “Love one another as I have loved you.” Freely, sacrificially.