Our culture’s definition of love differs so greatly from love as God defines it as to be almost opposites in meaning. Recently I was watching a British TV series where the protagonist was struggling with the fact that his daughter had drowned while on his watch. He was so crushed by his sorrow and guilt that he had fled the wife (who also blamed him) and the other daughter, whose eyes he could not meet without thinking of the one he had let down. Eventually his estranged wife came to him to say she and the other daughter were departing to Canada because they needed to start over. She said she loved him, but that they couldn’t wait for him (to come to grips with his guilt and grief) anymore.
It struck me with such force that someone could in one breath say, “I love you,” and in the next say, “I can’t wait for you anymore.” How unlike the love of God for us, and the love He calls us to emulate as we deal with others with the same kind of grace and mercy He has given to us!
I think about the parable Jesus told about the Prodigal Son. Here was someone who also ran away, yet the father not only waited for him to “come to himself,” but actually ran to meet the son when he saw him coming in the distance. The returning son hadn’t fully recovered from his wandering, he had just figured he was better off as a servant in the father’s household than he was at rock bottom. He had no inkling of the mercy and grace that would flow to him from the father’s amazing love.
And this is a picture of how God loves us! His love waits for us—patiently, eagerly, earnestly. It watches for us to begin to wake up from our distractions and delusions and return. When we do, His love doesn’t hold us at arm’s length, or turn away waiting for us to cajole it into letting us back in; His love rushes to us with open arms, embracing us, and welcoming us back into full fellowship and the intimacy of sonship. It IS amazing how He loves us!
If I were to tell the story of that series from the perspective of the kind of love God has for us, and He calls us to have for one another, the wife would have met her husband with much more compassion for his pain and guilt. She would have said to him, “We understand that you are still working through this, and because we love you—because I love you—we/I am willing to wait on you as long as it takes. We are with you in this, because that is how God loves and calls us to love.”
The author of this anthem speaks of loneliness, and there is no loneliness like the alienation of a wandering soul. God is our heart’s true home, and whenever we leave it, no matter how splendid the surroundings to which we flee or how many beautiful people we gather around us, we will never find fulfillment; we will never feel settled. We see it all the time: wealthy, talented, beautiful, empty, unhappy people, often trying to fill their lives with toys, drugs, and one failed relationship after another—all to no avail because we can’t fill up our God-shaped hole with anything less than the real deal. We all need the amazing love of God in our lives to feel whole.
We’ve all failed Him so many times and in countless ways. We may not have physically fled or openly rebelled, but we have chosen lessor gods, allowed the bright and shiny things of this world to distract us, and allowed our hearts to become cold and distant. Yet God’s persistent, amazing love continues to pursue us. He didn’t just say that He loves us; He demonstrated it. With His own precious blood, He bought our pardon. After paying such an unfathomable personal price He is not about to throw that act of love away just because we have foolishly faltered. We are that important to His love that He came for and died for us, and has promised that nothing can separate us from His love—not even ourselves and our failures.
We ought to be amazed that He loves and how He cares. We ought to dwell on that unfathomable fact until our hearts burst forth in worship. Psalm 107 is a wonderful place to start meditating, as it goes through the many ways we wander and get ourselves into trouble, then gives this constant refrain of, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind…” then lists some of the many things He has done out of His love. The psalm concludes with this admonition: “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.”
The more we do this—the more we ponder His loving deeds—the more we will be amazed that He loves us, and how He cares; the more we will praise Him from the depths of our hearts and rejoice in the wealth of blessing that His love is to us.