A Climb Free post – a deeper look at truths that can change our view of our God, ourselves, and the way in which we can live effectively in this world. (This is a continuation of the exploration of our God’s “hesed” love, His covenant love for us.)
The covenant love our God is always full of kindness. How sad it is that so many people seem to think of our God in terms of strict discipline, judgment, wrath, and punishment. The scriptures are clear, and the history of our God’s dealings with us bears it out, that he always leads with kindness, including to those who are acting as His enemies. The kindness of our God is the character quality with which He leads in His dealings with his friends as well as those who think themselves His enemies.
As our God states in Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” And in Titus 3:4 it reads, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy….”
The covenant love our God is relentless and never-failing. It is His steadfast love. Even in the most demanding circumstances and most difficult passages, we are assured that the love of our God is steadfast and never-failing. He is relentless in pursuing us with His love. Jeremiah knew of this unfailing and relentless love, even in the midst of incredibly trying times as the prophet of the conquest and captivity. Hear his words in Lamentations 3:22-23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Psalm 42, also speaks of the steadfast and relentless love of our God, even in difficult circumstances: “Yet I am standing here depressed and gloomy, but I will meditate upon your kindness to this lovely land where the Jordan River flows and where Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar stand. All your waves and billows have gone over me, and floods of sorrow pour upon me like a thundering cataract. Yet day by day the Lord also pours out his steadfast love upon me, and through the night I sing his songs and pray to God who gives me life.”
The covenant love of our God is always pursuing us. He is never-ceasing in His seeking to woo us and capture our hearts. Tim Keller observes “… Christianity is unique among all religions for it is about God’s pursuit of us to draw us to Himself. In every other religious system, people pursue their god, hoping that through good behavior, keeping of rituals, good works, or other efforts they will be accepted by the god they pursue.”
Indeed, look at the imagery of our God in the Bible. Even after the fall of the race, our God is walking in the Garden, seeking Adam and Eve, asking “Where are you?” Through the judges and the prophets, He is continually reaching out to His wayward people. He is seeking them and pursuing them out of love, as we saw in the previous example of Hosea 11:1-4. In Jesus’ parables, He is diligently searching for us, the “lost coins,” and He is out at night searching for us, the “lost sheep.” He is the father filled with a prodigal love, standing alert as he searches for his prodigal son to return, spotting him while is still a long way off. The entire incarnation event is a giant example of a God who will stop at nothing to pursue and recapture His lost people. And at the conclusion of the Jesus “in-person” phase of this incarnation event, Jesus initiates the Jesus “in us” phase, characterized by the Great Commission of Matthew 28. Jesus invites us to personally and corporately join Him in the pursuit of humans in every corner of the earth.
This pursuing quality defines the love of our God, and is implied in the Hebrew idea of “hesed.” Francis Thompson wrote of this pursuing love in his famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” Here is a paraphrase of one portion of that poem, “God says, “You keep running from Me. This is strange. Why do you run from Me? I love you. You didn’t do anything to merit My love. Human love is different from My love, for human love you need merit. I love you no matter what you do because I Am Love.””
This “hesed” love, this covenant love of our God for us is the always gracious, always kind, always merciful, always pursuing, unfailing or relentless love of our God. It is the foundation for the forgiveness of our God, even for the most recalcitrant of sinners. Nehemiah 9:17 describes this forgiveness perfectly, and attributes it to the “hesed” love (“lovingkindness”) of our God; “They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them.” The truth stated earlier, that it is the kindness of our God that leads us to repentance, is also found in Psalm 130:4; “But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.”
This covenant love of our God for us is why, rather than dealing with us out of anger and judgment as He is thought to do by so many, our God chooses to deal with us in forgiveness. He deals with us, even the worst of us, in an attitude of forbearance. Those who would portray our God as quick to judge and damn people for specific sins forget the forbearing character of our God as described in Romans 3:25. Here it speaks of Jesus “…whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed….”
The next “Climb Free” post will continue to explore this divine, covenant love and its implications for us, focusing on how this understanding of our God’s covenant love made its way into the New Covenant thinking in the New Testament.