Her name was Pandy. She had lost a good deal of her hair, one of her arms was missing, and, generally speaking, she’d had the stuffing knocked out of her. She was my sister Barbie’s favorite doll.
When Pandy was young and a looker, Barbie loved her. She loved her with a love that was too strong for Pandy’s own good. When Barbie went to bed at night, Pandy lay next to her. When Barbie had lunch, Pandy ate beside her at the table. When Barbie could get away with it, Pandy took a bath with her. Barbie’s love for that doll was, from Pandy’s point of view, pretty nearly a fatal attraction.
By the time I knew Pandy, she was not a particularly attractive doll. In fact, to tell the truth she was a mess. She was no longer a very valuable doll; I’m not sure we could have given her away. But for reasons that no one could ever quite figure out, in the way that kids sometimes do, my sister Barbie loved that little rag doll still. She loved her as strongly in the days of Pandy’s raggedness as she ever had in her days of great beauty. Other dolls came and went. Pandy was family. Love Barbie, love her rag doll. It was a package deal.
Once we took a vacation from our home in Rockford, Illinois, to Canada. We had returned almost all the way home when we realized at the Illinois border that Pandy had not come back with us. She had remained behind at the hotel in Canada. No other option was thinkable. My father turned the car around and we drove from Illinois all the way back to Canada. We were a devoted family. Not a particularly bright family, perhaps, but devoted. We rushed into the hotel and checked with the desk clerk in the lobby—no Pandy. We ran back up to our room—no Pandy. We ran downstairs and found the laundry room—Pandy was there, wrapped up in the sheets, about to be washed to death. The measure of my sister’s love for that doll was that she would travel all the way to a distant country to save her.
When I was growing up I had all kinds of casual playthings and stuffed animals. My mother didn’t save any of them. But she saved Pandy. Want to guess why? (When I was younger I thought it was perhaps because my mother loved my bratty little sister more than she loved me.) The nature of my sister’s love is what made Pandy so valuable. Barbie loved that little doll with the kind of love that made the doll precious to anyone who loved Barbie. All those tears and hugs and secrets got mixed in with the rags somehow. If you loved Barbie, you just naturally loved Pandy too.
When Pandy was young, Barbie loved her. She celebrated her beauty. When Pandy was old and ragged, Barbie loved her still. Now she did not simply love Pandy because Pandy was beautiful, she loved her with a kind of love that made Pandy beautiful.
There are two truths about human beings that matter deeply.
We are all of us rag dolls. Flawed and wounded, broken and bent. Ever since the Fall, every member of the human race has lived on the ragged edge. Partly our raggedness is something that happens to us. Our genes may set us up for certain weaknesses. Our parents may let us down when we need them most. But that’s not the whole story. We each make our own deposits into the ragged account of the human race. We choose to deceive when the truth begs to be spoken. We grumble when a little generous praise is called for. We deliberately betray when we’re bound by oaths of loyalty. Like a splash of ink in a glass of water, this raggedness permeates our whole being. Our words and thoughts are never entirely free of it. We are rag dolls, all right.
But we are God’s rag dolls. He knows all about our raggedness, and he loves us anyhow. Our raggedness is no longer the most important thing about us. We were not created ragged. From the beginning there was a wonder about human beings that caused God himself to say “Very Good” as he looked at them in the department store window. There was a wonder about human beings that caused the writer of Genesis to say they had been made in God’s own image. There was a wonder about human beings that caused the psalmist to say they rival the divine beings in glory and honor. There is a wonder about human beings still that even all our fallenness cannot utterly erase.
There is a wonder about you. Raggedness is not your identity. Raggedness is not your destiny, nor is it mine. We may be unlovely, yet we are not unloved. And we cannot be loved without being changed. There is such a love, a love that creates value in what is loved. There is a love that turns rag dolls into priceless treasures. There is a love that fastens itself onto ragged little creatures, for reasons that no one could ever quite figure out, and makes them precious and valued beyond calculation. This is a love beyond reason.
This is the love of God. This is the love with which God loves you and me. Love is why God created us in the first place. Theologians speak of the fact that God created everything freely, not out of necessity. This is a very important idea—it means that God did not make us because he was bored, lonely, or had run out of things to do. God did not create us out of need. He created us out of his love. C. S. Lewis wrote, “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.” But the full extent of God’s love was shown not so much when he chose to create us. It was shown when we had become sinful and unlovely.
For God is fully aware of our secret. He knows that we are rag dolls. The prophet Isaiah said it thousands of years ago: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV) Every one of us has become ragged, so damaged by sin and guilt that it seemed like the logical thing left was to discard the human race. Toss it out and start over. But this God could not bring himself to do. So God proposed reconstructive surgery. God proposed to take the human race to where he could change filthy rags and remove the guilt and sin that left the objects of his love so unlovely. There really is such a place. It is called the cross.