With those two words Alexander Strauch opens his book, Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-Up Call to the Church Revelation 2:4, and begins by discussing the problem of lost love. He focuses on this verse in Revelation because:
“It addresses the issue of love, particularly the problem of love that has grown cold. This issue is of utmost importance because love is vital to the survival of our churches today”1
As the Lord Jesus told the church at Ephesus, in so many churches it is obvious we have abandoned the love you had at first. We must heed His words to the Ephesians and know that we must “Love or Die.”
In the second section Strauch gives us his thoughts on how we learn love—and we begin by turning to God’s Word.
“If you want to pursue love, you must read and study what God says about love in his written Word. You will then grow in the knowledge of love and in the knowledge of God and Christ whom we are to love above all others. Nothing but God’s Word and Spirit can awaken our desire to love and transform our sinfully selfish hearts to love as Christ loves.”2
Each week I’m posting a passage Strauch considers to be a key text on love. I may include verses to provide context or combine some or even add a few. Ask God to transform your heart through His Word to know Him and His love, and to love Him and others.
Deuteronomy 10:15 is the next verse. Go ahead and read it in its context, but because of its similarities with last week’s passage, I want to go on to Psalm 13:5.
“But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.”
In this psalm by David, verse 5 is the turning point in his prayer. In its context this verse reveals the depth of his trust in God.
“How long, O Yahweh? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
“Consider and answer me, O Yahweh my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
“But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to Yahweh,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.”
David was not writing for poetic drama; when he asked “How long, O Yahweh? Will You forget me forever?” he was in anguish, and he felt forgotten. Have you known overwhelming suffering that spans what seems to be a never ending stretch of time? In writing about Psalm 13, Leslie M’Caw and J. A. Motyer have these comments about David’s sorrow:
“The four aspects of sorrow are: a sense of being forsaken by a God who has forgotten him; the hopelessness of one who cannot get through to a God who continually hides Himself away; ceaseless inner hurt and grief; and defeat at the hands of vaunting foes. These are not unconnected experiences, for to be out of touch with God brings the personality to the point of breakdown and leaves us at the mercy of foes, human and spiritual.”3
David Biebel has further insight on suffering:
“…for me the “real problem” in suffering is not philosophical (Why?), or practical (What am I to do?), or even a question of power (How am I to face this?), though with the last one we’re getting closer. The greatest questions in suffering—for the serious believer—are relational: relationships with God, self, and others.”4
I have to agree. A Christian can stand outside of suffering and find some answers to the philosophical question of why. We can also read of practical steps that should be taken, and in the everyday ups and downs of living we can learn something about facing affliction, but there are some events that have shattering long-term consequences, and then we may enter into a valley of struggle between doubting God and His love, and longing to trust Him.
At that point much of the advice heard becomes hurtful platitudes, and platitudes don’t help with that inward struggle—they only highlight it. Those who have suffered greatly themselves know that what is needed more than anything else is to be loved, for they know that the love of fellow believers offers a hand to those in pain and can help bridge the gap between doubt and trust. Words are not so much what is needed, but rather a relationship of love that undergirds those words. Our trust in God is at the heart of the battle, and the love of others for us is a witness of the love of God for us.
Biebel writes, “…the truly important issues are between us and God.”5 The love of others can help bear us up, but it will not finally still our storm. We may also endure a bleak time when love from fellow Christians is thin on the ground. That makes it much harder to persevere—I know this well—but the truly important issues remain between us and God.
The grief God has allowed in our lives hammers against who we have understood God to be. Biebel also states, “I could not love God while hating so intensely something he allowed.”6 I don’t think he’s saying that we must love an evil event, but that intense hatred is fueled by our anger and blaming God. The crux of our raging doubt is trusting God’s hand in the sorrow of our lives.
And here God gives us His hand, and without His help we could never bridge that gap between doubt and trust. In His Word we read of the distress of those who poured out their heart to God in words that echo our thoughts. We read of their struggles in their relationship to God. Job is the premier example in the Old Testament, and in so many Psalms we find David’s help. They have known our anguish and in words writ large they cry out. The platitudes you and I have heard, Job heard. David knew abandonment and betrayal.
When God speaks to Job at the end of the book, He doesn’t answer the philosophical why or the practical what or how. E. S. P. Heavenor writes:
“The Word of God came and the strife of words was over. It did not come through a carefully reasoned argument, dealing a deathblow to Job’s intellectual difficulties by inexorable logic; it did not come through a cut-and-dried explanation of the strands of suffering in Job’s experience. …The Word came through a fresh vision of God—of the mighty, majestic God behind the marvels of animate and inanimate nature..towering above human might and wisdom.
“The Word…convinced Job that he could trust such a God….
“…He cannot argue his way out of his difficulty by denying the wisdom [38:4–39:30], justice [40:6–14] or power [40:15–41:34] of God, but he can, after he has seen just how wise, just and powerful God is, rest humbly and trustfully upon Him.”7
Job rests in God before his loss was restored, because “The Word…convinced Job that he could trust such a God.” His relationship with God was restored because seeing God as He is, he trusted God’s hand in his loss.
Many of David’s psalms contain both struggle and then trustful rest. In the pivotal verse of Psalm 13:5, two words David uses in describing his relationship with God are trust and lovingkindness. John Oswalt writes:
“…in Hebrew bāṭaḥ [trust] expresses that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence….stressing the feeling of being safe or secure.
“In general, the OT contrasts the validity of that sense of confidence which comes from reliance upon God with the folly of any other kind of security.
“The Psalms, which show the largest number of occurrences (50 out of a total of 181), are most consistently expressive of the values of trust in God. They also make the point that the cause for hope is not in one’s merit with God or in some sort of “tit-for-tat” arrangement, but only because of God’s ḥesed [lovingkindness] (q.v.) his unswerving loyalty, his gracious kindness.”8
David turns and places his trust in God’s lovingkindness. David’s feeling of security comes from confidence in who God is. He trusted God’s hand in his suffering because he knew his suffering occurred within the greater context of God’s love for him.
And God reaches down and gives us His hand as He transforms our hearts by His Spirit, teaching us who He is as we read His Word, and giving us reassurance and comfort that we also can trust His love for us in dark days of our lives because our suffering also occurs within the greater context of God’s love for us.
May God’s mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you in 2012.
Posts in the series:
1. “Love or Die”
2. “The Sermon On The Name”
3. “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”
4. The Great Commandment
5. “The Love That Will Not Let Go”
6. Trusting God’s Love In The Darkness
Heart-[foto & Concept by paul b. toman], Plismo: Creative Commons Attribution
1, 2Alexander Strauch, Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-Up Call to the Church Revelation 2:4 (Lewis & Roth, Littleton CO) 4, 27.
The first two parts of the book are, “The Problem of Lost Love: Revelation 2:4,” and “How to Cultivate Love: Hebrews 10:24.” The chapters on cultivating love are: “Study Love”, “Pray For Love,” “Teach Love,” “Model Love,” “Guard Love” and “Practice Love.”
3Leslie S. M’Caw, J. A. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, 3rd ed., D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 458.
4, 5, 6David Biebel, If God is so good, why do I hurt so bad? (Fleming H. Revell, Grand Rapids: 1989) 112, 130, 111.
7E. S. P Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, 3rd ed., D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 442—443.
8John N. Oswalt, “233 בָּטַח (bāṭaḥ),” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (Moody Press, Chicago: 1980) vol. 1, 101–102. On page 307, in writing about ḥesed R. Laird Harris states, “The word “lovingkindness” of the KJV is archaic, but not far from the fulness of the meaning of the word.”
In “The Sermon On The Name” I explain the use of Yahweh rather than LORD.
Original content: Copyright ©2012 Iwana Carpenter