Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Relentless Love of God

by Kath

Recently we went to the coast for a week's holiday and on our last night there, we went for a  rather long walk along the edge of the breakwall, just on dusk.  

I am always fascinated by the water at the edge of these dangerous precipices, especially when it's a long way down, over  large jagged rocks.  It doesn't feel terribly safe to me, but I'm still fascinated.  And just to add to the unsafe feeling, I was walking along, hanging onto the hand of a small person who insisted on dancing and bouncing around, rather than just walking sedately along, and the path we were walking, or bouncing, on, wasn't particularly wide, with water on both sides. 

On this last long walk, what really grabbed my attention was the constant movement of the water.    It didn't stop.  It just kept lapping, lapping, lapping up against the rocks.    It was even more constant than my six year old's chatter, and that was something to marvel at.   And it was quiet and yet powerful all at once.   Of course, the waves were quite small, being inside a large bay area and not out in the open ocean.  But they were still constant.    In fact, they never stopped, just kept coming, quietly, powerfully, constantly - relentless.

I gotta say, the ocean scares me a bit.  I enjoy the sea, don't mind having a paddle in shallow water, but I'm quite wary of it, having been dumped a few times and having been caught in a rip a number of years ago.   The power of waves and rips to pull you where you don't want to go, to pull you down and turn you over and over makes you realise how powerless you really are.  

What drives those waves?   Of course, science tells us it's the pull of the moon on our planet and I guess that makes sense.    But the Bible says that God is the Lord of the sea.

Job 38:8-11

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

Prov 8:29 When He set for the sea its boundary, so that the water would not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth..........

During our time at the coast, we swam at  a beach just a little further down the coastline, which was still quite sheltered by comparison to other beaches, where the waves were a bit larger, and the pull of the water stronger.   Our littlest person got dumped by one of those waves, and realised, in real terms, the power of the water.  She had had great plans of swimming a long way out, alone, and being the master of her little situation, with hands on hips, stomping of feet and very definite speech.  She was going to do what she wanted in that water.   After her dumping, about two  minutes after she stepped into the water, we didn't have to tell her any more that the sea can be a dangerous place.    She felt it and it frightened her and humbled her, for a while.    She didn't go back in at the 'big' beach.  

When I looked at that little bit of the sea that last evening, lapping up against the breakwall, constantly and quietly, but powerfully, I realised that it was just a very, very small part of the very large ocean that graces our planet.    And the waves that grace our planet are much more powerful and potentially damaging in many other places.   

And they are relentless - they never stop coming, the water never stops lapping or crashing or pulling against the shore. 

And yet God is more powerful than our ocean, and I was reminded that it's not just His power, but His love and goodness, that are relentless.   

More than the sounds of many waters, than the mighty breakers of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty. Ps 93:4

God is mighty in His power, but He is mighty in His love.   His love is relentless, like the ocean, lapping, lapping, lapping against the breakwalls of our lives, and sometimes crashing down upon them.    God's love is constant - constantly coming, constantly in motion, constantly there, often quiet, but sometimes powerfully crashing against the walls of our lives and breaking them down.   

We could imagine that His love is like the ocean and that the water is His goodness - full of life, but full of power and constantly in motion, not passive, not stale, and not necessarily 'safe' at times.   It reminds me of the famous line from Narnia, 'Is he safe?   No, but he is good.'  

Sometimes, God's power breaks things in our lives and breaks down our resistance and safety nets, only to be replaced by something much stronger and eternal and unbreakable.   It would be a frightening thing if God were not good, because then His power would be destructive without a purpose, without goodness, just raw power.   

In Psalm 23, it says,

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

In the original text, that word for follow is 'radaph', which doesn't mean to follow along placidly, but rather to hunt down.   So the text should read, 'Surely Your goodness and love will hunt me down all the days of my life.'    We don't think of hunted and love as belonging in the same sentence, and yet here they do.  In this passage, one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, it speaks of being hunted down by love and goodness - a bit like the waves of the ocean relentlessly crashing against the shore. 

God's love and goodness are relentless, powerful, quiet, moving, alive, constant, just like the ocean, only the ocean is a copy, not the real thing, a physical  manifestation of the even more real, tangible and powerful goodness of God.   And love and goodness are who He is, not what He does.   

Even after we were safely inside our unit for the night, those waves wouldn't have stopped.  Even now as I write, hundreds of kilometres away, and I can no longer see them or hear them, they haven't stopped.  The sea doesn't stop, just because I can't see it or hear it or feel it.   It's good to get to the ocean, if you can't live near it, to be reminded of the power of it.   But even when you can't see it or hear it or feel it, it doesn't stop.    And it's a very tangible reminder that even when we can't see or hear or feel or recognise the love and goodness of God, it isn't any less real or tangible or constant or powerful.  It's still there. 

Psalm 136:1-2  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.    Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.…

Psalm 100:5 For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting. And His faithfulness to all generations.

Sometimes the water isn't quiet and sometimes God's love doesn't feel good, but only powerful.   But it is always good, even when that powerful love and goodness knocks us over, humbles us, finds us sitting on the shore, growling, frustrated at our smallness, wondering what happened to all our bravado and plans.    I wonder how often we sit on the shore of His love like a frustrated three year old, growling at His power and sovereignty and our own powerlessness, but not prepared to go back into the water?     It feels easier to just get busy again and ignore that great big ocean and stay 'safe'.

I wonder does sometimes the love of God  make us feel like that?  Sometimes, in His love, God does and allows things that turn us over and over, knock us off our feet, expose our  insecurities, have us in deep water, have us longing for some solid ground under our feet and when we find our feet again, does it make us feel very small and insignificant?   It shouldn't.   Because even though we are small and we are powerless, compared to that great big ocean of power and love and goodness, we are by no means insignificant and our struggles are not insignificant to Him who created the ocean that knocked us off our feet.  

This song is a powerful reminder that His love is not in pieces, not based on His being in a good mood, not conditional, not passive, not stingy, but present, generous, wild, unreserved, unrestrained, uncontained, hunting us down and pursuing us - relentless. 

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