“Mom always liked you best.”
That was the signature line of the comedy act, the Smothers Brothers. In an interview by PBS, Tommy Smothers recalled how it started. He was the younger, dumber brother. Dick was the older, smarter brother. Dick, as usual, was running Tommy down. He did it so convincingly that the audience stopped thinking it was only an act.
The audience started to hiss and boo Dick. Tommy said, “He’d do this one litany, about five or six lines in a row. ‘You’re stupid. You’re dumb. You’re not a man. You’ve never done anything right. You’re a failure. You’ll never amount to anything.’” Tommy answered, “Yeah, and mom liked you best.” The audience fell apart.
Why was that funny? Why did that relieve the tension that was running so high against Dick? The audience had a pent up desire to see Tommy win, to top Dick, to play trump. Unexpectedly, he did. Suddenly, in a bitter way, the brother who was supposed to be a failure was a smashing success.
Tommy won the argument with one, simple statement. The dumber brother showed that in one important way, he was smarter. Unpack the line, “Mom liked you best,” and it says, if you’re so smart, why do you think you can hurt me with all those rotten things you are saying, when I already have been hurt as badly as anyone can be? Does it get any worse than my mother not loving me as well? I am down so far, how did you think you could put me down any farther?
Life does that to us. It tells us we are not loved as well as others. As bad as that is when it involves our mothers, it is worse when we feel that way about our Heavenly Father. The Devil, the world, and our own fallen thinking try to take away our assurance of how well the Father loves us.
As with nearly every problem in our faith, the Trinity is an essential part of the answer. Because of the Trinity, we can receive assurance of how well loved we are.
Jesus said to his Father, “You sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:23. The Only Begotten Son of the Father says the Father loves us, his adopted sons, exactly as He loves the Only Begotten Son. The love in the Trinity between the Father and the Son is the same love that the Father gives to us. We are loved as well as Jesus is.
The Only Begotten Son tells us He, too, loves us exactly as the Father loves him. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” John 15:9.
The Spirit also brings us the same love. “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Roman 8:15-16.
It is vogue to say that doctrine does not matter and that what matters is love. But these verses telling us how well loved we are base our assurance on the Trinity. Love is not a free standing force in the cosmos. Love’s origin is in the Trinity. Without the Trinity, there is no such thing as the love of one person for another. In a Unitarian or Oneness Pentecostal god, love either has become self-love, since there is only one person in god, or love has been abolished. Love and the assurance of being loved depend on doctrine, the truth of the Trinity.
Through the blood of Christ, we receive Trinitarian love. Because of his blood, the Father declares us justified. The merits of Christ are credited to us, and the Father pronounces us absolved for Jesus’ sake. With the forgiveness of sins – with justification by grace and faith through Word and Sacrament – we are restored to the love whose quality is pure and whose bounds are infinitely enormous, the love of Trinitarian dimensions. The Trinity loves us as purely and enormously as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father.
Yes, love matters, and doctrine assures you of being loved as well as divinely possible, as well as the divine Persons love one another.