“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT)
David, the psalmist King of Israel who wrote this Shepherd Psalm, endured more than his fair share of danger and trouble. As a young boy caring for his father’s sheep, he was left to fend for himself in the wilderness, fighting off wild beasts. An endless nightmare began for him when he was anointed to be Israel’s future king, and he spent the remaining days of his youth hiding from the incumbent king, Saul, who rewarded his loyalty by putting a price on his head.
Not surprisingly David saw himself as being chased by trouble, and yet, when he reflected on God’s dealings in his life, he realised that the opposite was true. In his own words, “goodness, mercy and unfailing love” (Amplified)-rather than trouble, sorrow or danger -continued to pursue him all the days of his life. We, Christians, often behave like orphans, who must fend for ourselves in a cold and hostile world. Yet, what does God show us in His word? Like a child playing beneath the warm sunshine of its mother’s care, we are surrounded by God’s watchful presence and love. The prophet Zephaniah reminded Zion to rejoice in spite of her troubles because “the LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17 NASB) .
God’s love and human suffering
Christianity is unique among the religions, in presenting love as the very essence of God’s nature.“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (John 4:8 HCSB). How can we reconcile the love of God with human suffering? When troubles come, we instinctively feel forgotten or abandoned by God. When the world goes a step further to say that human suffering negates the existence of God, they are holding specifically to a Christian viewpoint about the character of God – that He is just and loving. If we were taught that God is an all-powerful, but innately selfish, cruel and tyrannical ruler of this universe, none of us would be surprised at the present state of our world.
The Bible offers a clear explanation for this anomaly. The good and loving God created everything good; but sin entered the world when our first parents used their free will to obey the Enemy, the father of sin, rather than God. All creation became tainted by sin, and every human instinct from childhood is to do evil. Indeed, much of the suffering around us is the result of human behaviour, but God, in His infinite love, began His work of restoring us in stages. The most important event, so far, has been the death and resurrection of His Son, who bore our sins and defeated the enemy of our souls. In other words, God proved His love for us by suffering for us.
In the final restoration of all things, sin and suffering will be eliminated; but while sin remains in the world, suffering is an instrument in God’s hands to achieve 3 purposes – 1. to draw us to Himself, 2. to draw us out of our natural selfishness, and 3. to make us reflect His own love to a dying world. Our sufferings give Him no pleasure, and His aim is not to punish, but to reconcile and rehabilitate: “In all their suffering, He suffered… He lifted them up and carried them…” (Isaiah 63:9 HCSB). Troubles last for a brief season, but God’s love is eternal and enduring, covering every detail of our lives
The nature of God’s love
What do we know or understand about the love of God? Jesus said, “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The cross demonstrates God’s love for humanity. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
God indeed loved us so much that He died for us, not when we were His friends, but when we were His enemies! “It is rare indeed for anyone to die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:7-9 Berean SB). God, seeing how evil we were in our inclinations and deeds, chose not to condemn us, but to die in our stead. This act of love gives us confidence that we will be delivered from the coming wrath.
The best of human literature has to yet to to equal the Bible in its description of love – “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (vs 4-8 ESV)”.
These words reflect the nature of our Shepherd’s love for us – it is full of mercy, loving-kindness and faithfulness. His love is patient and kind; He is not easily angered at our wrongdoing and failures. He continues to suffer and bear faith with us, in spite of our many sins and rebellion. God’s love is not removed from us when we stumble; but endures through all the peaks and troughs in our spiritual experience.
Our response to God’s love
“Christ’s love controls us…”(2 Corinthians 5:14 NLT). The love of God which is so unselfish, still demands reciprocity from us mainly for our own benefit. The prime claim that God’s love lays upon us is that we believe in it. If we believe wholeheartedly that God loves us, then we will yield ourselves to be moulded by His love. It is a strange thing for human beings to be compelled by love – rather than fear of adverse consequences – to do good. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment; and the one fearing has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18 Berean LB).
The love of God has implications for our behaviour. We are created in the image of God, and therefore we share in His attribute of loving others; but human love is usually confined to a small circle of family and friends. But if we are born again of God’s Spirit, we will be prepared to go a step further and choose to love, forgive and be reconciled with all who are opposed to us. As far as it depends on us, we will seek to live at peace with all people. Christians are called to move out of our comfort zones to reach out to the many souls languishing outside God’s flock, because this is what Jesus did.
The love of God will transform our priorities, attitudes and actions. When surrounded by trouble, David sought God’s mercy and found security in His loving embrace. A clear conscience before God became more important to him than earthly victories. For example, when he had the opportunity to kill his deadly enemy Saul, he chose instead to spare him, believing that God, in His time and in His own way, would deal with all his enemies.
What important lessons these are for us! If we truly believe that God loves us, we will not hasten to get our own way in everything, but patiently wait for God to remove the obstacles in our path and to direct our steps. We will strive to please Him, and when we fail, we will hasten back to Him, confident that He will restore us.
Our lives will no longer be shackled by the burden of endless duties and regulations. The cords of God’s love will draw us slowly, but surely, away from the old strongholds and sinful tendencies that held us captive. We will do the right things for the right reasons. Even in suffering, our attitudes will be changed as we willingly yield our old nature to the cross of Jesus. Our priority like Paul’s will be “to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death, so that I may somehow attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10 Berean SB).
Father, thank You for Your marvellous love displayed in Christ Jesus. Please help us to truly comprehend this love, be transformed by it, and reflect Your love to the weary souls all around us. In Jesus’ name.