Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The love of God

Not my words, Lord, but Yours.

Not by us, Yahweh, not by us,
by You alone is glory deserved,
by Your love and Your faithfulness.
Psalm 115:1

How do we know that God loves us? Aren’t we just too small and unimportant to bother with? Doesn’t He have better things to do? Or maybe it’s just that we don’t want Him to love us, so we prefer to remain in the dark about it. That’s easier, because we can be ‘our own’ men, not owing anyone anything, especially not owing Him. What does the Word of God say about God’s love? Here are some examples from Psalm 107.

Give thanks to Yahweh for He is good,
His love is everlasting:
Let these be the words of Yahweh’s redeemed,
those He has redeemed from the oppressor’s clutches,
by bringing them home from foreign countries,
from east and west, from north and south.

(Verses 1-3)

These words are for God’s hereditary people Israel, and are prophecy fulfilled in our day, as the return of Israel to the land proves. He addresses His own people first, and proves His love by always bringing them back. If you are a follower of Jesus, the Son of God, then you too are addressed in these words. He has redeemed you also from the oppressor’s clutches. Who or what is the oppressor? Death itself, which oppresses everyone. How has He redeemed you? By the precious blood of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, that is, Jesus Christ.

Some were living in gloom and darkness,
fettered in misery and irons
for defying the orders of God,
for scorning the advice of the Most High;
who bent them double with hardship,
to breaking point, with no one to help them.

(Verses 10-12)

What is this? Does the loving God fetter those who defy Him and scorn His advice, that is, His Word? Does He really send them hardship, try them to the breaking point, and withhold all help from them? You cannot escape this. It’s here in the scriptures. You can’t make up a god out of your false hopes, and then search for Bible verses to prove your ideas. Why would God do these things to people who reject Him? That doesn’t seem very loving now, does it? Perhaps they’re right to reject Him, if that’s the kind of God He is. What else does it say?

Then they called to Yahweh in their trouble
and He rescued them from their sufferings;
released them from gloom and darkness,
shattering their chains.
Let these thank Yahweh for His love,
for His marvels on behalf of men;
breaking bronze gates open,
He smashes iron bars.

(Verses 13-16)

What? Is that all it takes? If you’re heading down the wrong road, and things are just getting worse and worse, all you have to do is just ‘call to Yahweh’? That just seems too simple, doesn’t it? Surely, somebody has to pay for the wrongs, if they were wrong to begin with! Yes, and Someone has. It’s He who broke ‘bronze gates open’ and smashed ‘iron bars,’ when He descended into She‘ol, into Hades, into Hell…

Isaiah knew it would be so.
‘The world of shadows mourned,’ he cried, ‘when it met You,
mourned at its bringing low, wept at its deluding.’
The shadows seized a body and found it was God;
they reached for earth and what they held was heaven;
they took what they could see: it was what no one sees.

(Chrysostom, Paschal Homily)

The psalm continues with more examples of the love of God.

Some, driven frantic by their sins,
made miserable by their own guilt
and finding all food repugnant,
were nearly at death’s door.

(Verses 17-18)

So here’s a bit more about what’s going on. It’s not just God that punishes man with the penalties of sin, but the sins themselves have an effect on those who commit them. What’s this? Their guilt makes them miserable? How can this be possible? Is there a real right and wrong? Or do people suffer like this because they really do know that there is a God, and that His ways are holy?

Then they called to Yahweh in their trouble
and He rescued them from their sufferings;
sending His Word and curing them,
He snatched them from the pit.

(Verses 19-20)

What does it say that God does when the afflicted call to Him? He sends His Word and cures them! How is this possible? What can it possibly mean that ‘He sends His Word’? What is this ‘Word’ and how does it cure anyone? Can it possibly be what is called the scriptures? Backtracking to an earlier psalm for a moment, we might find the answer in Psalm 19, where the Law, Torah, is described in a way that makes us think whether it might be what Psalm 107 is calling the Word…

The Law of Yahweh is perfect,
new life for the soul;
the decree of Yahweh is trustworthy,
wisdom for the simple.

The precepts of Yahweh are upright,
joy for the heart;
the commandment of Yahweh is clear,
light for the eyes.

The fear of Yahweh is pure,
lasting for ever;
the judgments of Yahweh are true,
righteous every one,
more desirable than gold,
even than the finest gold;
His words are sweeter than honey,
even than honey that drips from the comb.

Thus Your servant is formed by them,
observance brings great reward.
But who can detect his own failings?
Wash out my hidden faults.
And from pride preserve Your servant,
never let it dominate me.
So shall I be above reproach,
free from grave sin.

(Verses 7-13)

‘Thus Your servant is formed by them’ and ‘free from grave sin’ seem to be saying that the ‘words of Yahweh’ have the power to shape us and free us from sin. It sounds like this might be the answer to what is meant by God ‘sending His Word and curing’ people who ‘called to Yahweh in their trouble.’ If this was true for them, can’t it be true for us as well?

Psalm 107 reveals to us a lot about how God, the living God of Israel, thinks and acts, showing us that God really does have a distinct personality, and isn’t just a ‘cosmic process.’

Sometimes He turned rivers to desert,
springs of water into arid ground,
or a fertile country into salt flats,
because the people living there were wicked.

Or again, He turned a desert into sheets of water,
and an arid country into flowing springs,
where He gave the hungry a home
in which to found a habitable town.

(Verses 33-36)

It isn’t just the mindless and purposeless forces of nature that change things on earth after all, but the just judgment of God that He expresses within time. Here’s an interesting verse…

Pouring His contempt upon the nobly born,
He left them to wander in a trackless waste.
But now, He lifts the needy out of their misery,
and gives them a flock of new families;
at the sight of which, upright hearts rejoice
and wickedness must hold its tongue.

(Verses 41-42)

Whatever else we think, we can see as we look around us, especially in these times, how these very things are happening. The ‘old money’ families, despite their wealth and prestige, are coming unglued. Their control of whole nations has brought them nothing but inner decay, moral and spiritual. On the other hand, are we alarmed when we see the prosperity, in our United States, of the new immigrants, the Latinos, the Koreans and other Asians? These latter are by and large ‘people of the Book,’ who take God at His Word and rely on His faithfulness…

Mary declared, ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.’
(Magnificat, Book of Common Prayer; Luke 1:52-53)

Psalm 107 concludes with this thought about the love of God…

If you are wise, study these things
and realise how Yahweh shows His love.

(Verse 43)

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