Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

The King of Love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am His, and He is mine forever.

Yesterday as I was reading the story of the Prodigal Son at Bible study, I was struck by God's overwhelming and all-encompassing love. The father in the story loved both his obedient son and his disobedient son. He did not write off the younger son for being wayward, and he did not quarrel with his older son for being uncharitable. He loved them both and tried to show both of them a better way to live. My God is a God of forgiveness and mercy, one who pulls us out of the depths of our sin when we turn to Him. The prodigal son's father did not come after him right away when he left, and so the son had to suffer hunger and poverty before he decided to return home. There were consequences for his mistakes, but once he returned to his father there was no punishment in store, only mercy. God wishes to rescue us, not punish us. That's what His overwhelming love is all about.

This is why I feel so sad sometimes when I read the news. Terrorists praise God as they hijack airplanes and blow themselves up in public markets. Nigerians cried "God is great!" as they massacred people—including defenseless women and children—with machetes. Protesters carry signs with slogans like "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates your tears" at funerals. Christians of all types make harsh speculations about who's going to Hell and what punishments lie in store for various misdeeds. It saddens me to consider this concept of God as someone who would rejoice in terrorism, violence, and punishment. I won't say that God doesn't use punishment as a tool, but I don't think He revels in it. I think God wants sinners to be saved, not destroyed. God does not endorse plane hijackers or suicide bombers. He does not scorn the tears of bereft mothers. God has compassion on all of the people in those situations, and He is sad that we do such destructive things. My God hates sin but loves people.

I feel a little angry sometimes that people would tarnish the name of my God by associating Him with such heartless tyranny. God is not a cold judge who creates rules simply so He can punish those who don't obey Him. God is not whispering into the ears of violent psychopaths or waiting gleefully to throw us into Hell as soon as we screw up. Jesus' death was not some legalistic ploy to buy us back into the good graces of a reluctant Father—it was the means for God to pour out His wondrous love and mercy on our undeserving souls. I'm not going to sit here and say that God doesn't have any judgments about community power struggles, social justice, or wars. But I don't think those judgments are where the story ends. They're just stepping stones in His mission to make us better, and God's love is the driving force behind all of His other properties—including His righteousness and His judgment.

Any time I see someone glorifying violence, retribution, war, or even damnation in the name of God, my soul bleeds a little bit. God doesn't love any of those things. He loves us. Whenever I see a sign that says "God hates [x group of people]," I want to cry. God hates the things we do sometimes, but He never hates us. My God is the God of love, and that is the most important thing about Him. I am sad that everyone doesn't know my God, because it's so wonderful to have a Good Shepherd to take care of me. I want everyone to feel that benefit and understand that amazing love. I want everyone to know my God.

And so throughout the length of days, Thy goodness faileth never.
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise within Thy house forever.

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