We like being liked. To be liked is to be desired. And the desire to be desired is one of the most powerful drives of the human heart. I have seen this hunger to be desired make otherwise reasonable people act so desperate, and even foolish, that I wondered if their heads had been replaced. I’ve been such a desperate fool myself—and so have you.
Being considered unattractive, unappealing, or unworthy of attention is one of the worst condemnations possible in a culture like ours. More than once, I’ve seen a quality lady end up with a questionable guy simply because he was the first one in a while to express desire for her. And vice versa. Being liked is the currency of our social relationships, seen in everything from the unspoken gravitation toward one person over another at a party to the digitized tokens of attention we exchange on social media. We want to be liked, and we want to get likes.
How can we understand this experience biblically? Let’s collect a few themes from Scripture to help us make sense of it.
1. God designed us to be liked.
Personal dislike between people did not exist in the garden of Eden before the fall. Granted, we never get to see what a whole society of people would have been like trafficking under those beautiful trees. But if the relationship between Adam and Eve teaches us anything about relationships beyond marriage, it’s that God made people to connect with one another free from the fear of shame and rejection. They were naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). But sin’s curse disconnected them, brought in fear and shame, making people aware of what was wrong with themselves and with others (3:7). They were separated from one another as well as from their Creator. We were made to be liked because we were made to connect.
2. Being liked means being desired. Being desired is part of belonging.
People are attracted to what they find valuable. The Song of Solomon describes what restored intimacy looks like between husband and wife, and it teaches us a principle of all human relationships: the link between desire and belonging. This theme is summarized well in 7:10: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” In other words, a wife is secure in her relationship to her husband because he so clearly expresses desire for her. This principle carries through to human relationships: being liked is a key element of the relational connection we were designed for.
3. Being disliked means being undesired.
The worst thing about being disliked is that it reminds us of our undesirable characteristics, the features about us that don’t measure up. It is a form of rejection. We fear rejection because we were made to belong in community.
So, if we reverse engineer this thing, we see that the fear of being disliked is ultimately a fear of rejection. The fact that we fear rejection is not surprising, given that the Lord made us to connect to one another. But God designed us for an even more essential intimacy. We were made to belong to God. And this is what begins to move us toward a solid solution to the fear of being disliked by people.
4. We were made to belong to the Lord first.
The Lord made us to belong to Him first and to one another second. The fear of being disliked by people can threaten that order. Here’s how: By wanting to be desirable in the eyes of people, we often devalue the superior affection of God toward us. We forget that our main problem has never been people’s rejection but God’s. The fear of being disliked by people may indicate we have forgotten the remarkable privilege of being received by God so deeply that Jesus says the Father loves His people with the same love He has for Jesus Himself (John 17:26). There is not a deeper affection in the universe.
5. The Lord values—we could say likes as well as loves—you.
Here, I am not proposing merely a therapeutic gospel. His love is not merely His attempt to reassure you that you’re more desirable than you give yourself credit for. His love is far better than this. It means He values you for far deeper reasons than any personal qualities you may or may not have. He values you because He crafted you as a unique expression of His own being. Even though your sin disfigures that expression, God’s intention remains to set you apart finally for Himself. He sees in you the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49).
All this means that God doesn’t just love you. He likes you. That is, the affection Solomon had for his wife or Adam had for Eve is only a pale reflection of God’s desire for His people. He values them because He has made them valuable by setting His love on them in Christ.
Being liked by God is a consequence of His love. As you trust in that perfect love, the fear of being disliked by people will lose its grip.
Dr. Jeremy Pierre is dean of students and assistant professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., a pastor at Clifton Baptist Church, and coauthor of The Pastor and Counseling.