As I listened to “How He Loves Us” yesterday, I was transported from my hotel room in Michigan to Shepherd’s Door, a rescue mission in Portland, Oregon that I worked at from 2007-2008. One of the other staff members had come into the main living room and said, “Oh, my gosh, you have to hear this song…” I heard that song over a dozen times during the rest of my shift because she made sure that every person who walked into that room–resident or staff–heard about the power and intensity of God’s love for them expressed in the words of that song.
The women at Shepherd’s Door were, in some ways, ready soil for the seed of the Gospel. Many had hit rock bottom and were looking desperately for a way up and a way out; the Gospel provides both. But the bottom can also be a very difficult place for the Gospel to penetrate because of the intense shame and self-hatred that exists there. This shame and self-hatred can make women fearful and distrusting of the love and forgiveness offered to them. Among his many tools to draw us to himself God tends to lean on patience, kindness, and grace; he may use conviction but he does not cause shame and self-hatred. Romans 2:4 talks about God’s patience and kindness that draws us to himself.
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (NIV)
In the New Testament there are many stories and parables on this theme of love and redemption: the prodigal son, the lost coin, the lost sheep. These stories show us a God who passionately seeks and saves those who are lost. God is pretty explicit about his desire to restore lost humanity to himself in the New Testament so it’s easy for people to see the God as a God of love and forgiveness. This love and forgiveness is not limited to the New Testament. As soon as the relationship between God and people is broken in Genesis 3 we see that God has a plan, which had been set in motion before the creation of the world, to restore us to himself. The rest of the Bible is the outworking of this plan.
When we read Genesis 3 we tend to focus on the act of sin and the choices that Adam and Eve made. What we often miss is how God’s grace is shown in so many little ways (I’ll point some of them out in a minute). If you’ve read previous posts you know that my tendency is to view God as a dispassionate observer rather than a good father who deeply loves and longs for his children. Some of that shifted when I read the story of the Fall in the Jesus Storybook Bible. As I read it, I wept. I wept because I could feel God’s broken heart and his deep, deep love for us. He wasn’t mad that they broke the rules, his heart was broken because his children had rejected him. He didn’t punish them to show them who was boss, he showed them kindness by allowing them to experience the consequences of their choices. He did not abandon them, he cared for them as they learned to walk this new, broken road. He did not respond in furry; he responded in grace. Here are snapshots of the grace in his response after the Fall:
- He sought them out. He knew they sinned yet he still invited them into relationship with him. How often do we, like Adam and Eve, hide in our shame? God is calling us out of hiding, not to judge us but to lift us up.
- He gave them opportunity to own their sin rather than simply confronting them with it. Why are you hiding? He asked. He knew the answer but he wanted to give them the opportunity to tell him.
- He allowed them to experience the consequences of their sin–death (spiritually and, ultimately, physically). Consequences, when done well, teach us what we should and shouldn’t do.
- He sacrificed an animal to provide clothing for them. I don’t know what he thought of their feeble attempt to cover their own nakedness and shame by sewing fig leaves together, but I do know that he stepped in to provide for them what they weren’t able to do for themselves: decent clothes.
- He removed their access to the the tree of life. They would not live forever. But this, too, is grace. He would not allow them to live forever broken by sin in a world broken by sin. Instead he allowed them to die with the intention to eventually resurrect them in a restored world free from sin. Not that they knew this at the time. They probably just felt the loss. But the loss was not the end of the plan.
- He promises ultimate victory over sin (Genesis 3:16)
He slowly and painfully walked through this process with them without once hearing them apologize or seeing them repent. And he continues, through the rest of the Old Testament and into the New Testament to reach out, to draw his children back to him, to redeem, to restore. He does not leave us as our sin deserves but steps into our reality to experience it with us and to take it from us. THIS is our God. No other God bears the burdens of their people in the way our God bears ours–both the burdens we wind up with through no fault of our own and the burdens we create ourselves.
He seeks and restores penitent sinners. Penitent simply means those who feel sorrow for their sin. This penitence is a godly sorrow leads to repentance. We don’t just feel bad; we feel bad and do something about it. We respond to God reaching out to us. We respond to his kindness. We respond to his grace. And then we share that grace with others. Romans 2:4, the passage that states that God’s grace leads us to repentance, is not so much about God’s patience and kindness toward the believer but a reminder regarding the people who are frustrating the believer, the people the believer is judging. Paul is telling Christians to stop judging and start showing kindness because, in his patience, God is using kindness (not anger and judgement) to draw people to repentance. Of course anger at injustice has its place but God’ primary tool for redeeming and restoring people? Kindness. We are drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes, not the anger in his voice. We are brought in by his love, not his threats. THIS is how we are to respond to the world. This applies to the co-workers who annoy the crap out of you, the family members who push your buttons, and to the people of goodwill and not-so-goodwill that are on the opposite side of the political spectrum as you. Kindness. *
Kindness doesn’t mean that you tolerate horrible behavior (although, sometimes it does). And it doesn’t mean you don’t fight for justice (although, sometimes you don’t). It does mean that you look to Jesus as an example and to the Holy Spirit, your guide, to help you decide when to turn the other cheek, when to walk away, and when to turn over the tables with whips because sometimes we want to rage when he wants us to be docile and sometimes we don’t want to rock the boat when he wants us to raise our voices. But you do all of these things with your eyes on Jesus, remembering that God is patiently and kindly drawing the very people who stir up the anger and frustration in you to himself…just like he once did for you…with kindness expressed through patience.
Be reminded, today, of his patience. Be reminded of his kindness. Let it lead you, and pray that it leads others, to repentance because we serve a God of love who both seeks and receives penitent sinners.
(I included the Jesus Culture version of How He Loves us because this is the one my coworker walked in and played for the women at Shepherd’s Door. May you experience the overwhelming magnitude of his love, of his patience and kindness toward you and may that experience free to to share it with others who do not deserve it any more than you did)
Side note: If you do not own the Jesus Storybook Bible, you should, even if you are an adult and have no children to read it to. It phenomenally ties the story of Scripture together with grace and truth that reveals God’s heart for us. It is amazing.
*I writing this from a safe hotel room in Grand Rapids, MI. I know nothing of real enemies who seek my harm and downfall. So it’s relatively easy for me to talk about enemies…I don’t really have them. Today I heard about the Christians killed on a bus in Egypt…they have been persecuted and mistreated. I cannot speak from experience about how to respond to this kind of evil…but I don’t think the appropriate response is all that different from what I’ve just said toward low-level enemies and annoying people, though perhaps it is more nuanced and carefully stated. Miroslaf Volf has an excellent book on his experiences of persecution and response to those experiences in light of the Gospel. Many have also been touched by the stories of pain and forgiveness by those like Corrie ten Boom.