Friday, November 6, 2009

The Steadfast Love of God

"For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,"
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:10 ESV
I don't know how many ways it has to be said before we really understand it: God's love is eternal, steadfast, and perfectly loyal.

Paul's words in Romans 8 could not be any clearer on this subject:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 ESV
No serious believer can read these passages and deny the eternal, perfect love of God. Indeed, it is the one thing upon which virtually all Christians, conservative or liberal, agree--God is love.

Though it is probably the most prolific topic of Christian sermons, books, debates, and music, God's love is perhaps one topic that has been so radically diluted in meaning that it has been lost on many Christians.

I say this because we speak of love as if it is primarily an affection, or a strong feeling of attraction. In an effort to beef it up a little, we'll also speak of love as commitment, or even a rational decision of choice so that it is not confused with infatuation. Both affection and commitment are ingredients to love. But, God's love is much more.

For one thing, God's love is not compartmentalized. It is not separate from his nature, which means that it is one inseparable component among all other inseparable components of his nature, such as justice, holiness, and righteousness. It is integrated into his entire being, and to understand it, we must see it in this way. It means that even though his justice requires punishment for disobedience, his holiness requires separation from all that is unholy, and his righteousness requires him to employ justice and judgment along with love, he is yet loyal to the covenant to which he committed himself for eternity regardless of anything else that happens.

So, even if it may feel to us as if we have lost his affection toward us, perhaps because we have become alienated by our disobedience or by chasing after other gods, or idols, God in his very nature loves us. His love may show itself as affection if we are alienated, compassion if we are suffering, and yes, discipline if we are in need of it.

What does this mean?

It means that God does not fall out of love when we carelessly stray from him or even when we deliberately shake our fist at him in defiance. God does not fall out of love--indeed, he doesn't fall into it either. It is his nature to love.

It also means that we must view his justice and discipline in a different light. These are not momentary lapses of God's love but are indeed important components of it. If he loves, he disciplines. When he disciplines, he loves. They are acts joined together by his nature.

A loving parent understands this. When a child needs to be disciplined, the loving parent will act upon it and properly discipline the child. Laxity in discipline is a reflection of how shallow our love is, not a proof that we love our children too much to bring them temporary sadness or pain.

Just as it gives us pain to exercise discipline, and also to receive it, it does not contradict love. If anything, discipline proves love. It proves it because in spite of the pain of it, love is exercised in this form. To refrain from it at a time when discipline is necessary, is to dilute love into infatuation, the very definition of which makes it temporary and fickle.

So, when God spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah, "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you," it is to be understood that we can see every action of God upon us as an action of love, even those actions which seem harsh and unfair, because if it is truly an action of God, it can be nothing less than an act of his full nature, this being the place where love resides.

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