William Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 116, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” He wasn’t writing about God’s love, yet those words are more true of God than they are of any human love. David wrote, “For Your steadfast love is great to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 57:10 ESV). There are over one hundred references to God’s steadfast love in the book of Psalms alone, with 26 of those occurring in Psalm 136.
We all need to be reminded that God’s love does not change just because we sin or doubt or forget His Word. David prayed, “Remember Your mercy, O Lord, and Your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord!” (Psalm 25:6-7). It wasn’t that he had to remind God of His love and mercy, but that David himself needed that reminder.
George Herbert (1593-1633) was another poet and priest who gave words to our struggle to remember God’s love. One of his poems begins:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
He goes on to say he can’t look on God because of his shame, to which God replies, “And know you not Who bore the blame?” Love invites him to come sit at the table and enjoy the meal because it is God who provides both forgiveness and grace. As is often the case, I write what I need to hear for myself, but I’m sure we can all relate to that sense of unworthiness that makes us draw back from God when we’ve sinned. And yet, He is more than willing to welcome back His prodigal children.
Herbert’s poem has some parallels to Isaiah 55:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David…[Let] him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (55:1, 3, 7).
We cannot begin to deserve the forgiveness and love and many other blessings that God pours out on us. We cannot repay what God has done. Our role is simply to receive with gratitude. In many ways, that takes more humility than it would to perform some kind of penance. If we could do enough to offset the guilt of sin, then we might take pride in thinking we had somehow contributed to our salvation. But if it is a gift of God from beginning to end, we must be humble, powerless recipients. This way God gets all the glory for what He alone has done. “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8b-9). May we be quick to run back to the Father every time we realize we’ve wandered away!
“To You, I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of the maidservant to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He has mercy upon us” (Psalm 123:1-2).
“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:26).
© 2019 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.