By Sigrid fowler
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With the sobering news of the fall of Afghanistan, the rise of a new COVID, the voices of angry parents and Christian teachers troubled by a new emphasis in many schools, and questions about inflation, I suspect that many are asking: Where is God in all this? I won’t propose new answers for the question, one that has been asked down through the ages, but will just point myself and others to someencouragement the Bible has for those who petition the Almighty at such times.
The words of Jesus, quoted near the end of Hebrews,come first to mind. The context is relevant to current problems—worries about the economy, inflation hassles, our debatable fascination with celebrities and the rich, alarming international developments, and all the rest of it. There are many theories about who wrote the Book of Hebrews, no one can say conclusively. Whoever it was quotes Jesus and speaksto questions like ours: “He himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you,’ so that we confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will a human do to me?’”(Heb 13: 5b-6). The first part of that verse is a caution about making “sure your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Heb 13: 5a), not an irrelevant addition to the point.
The Gospel of John sets the scene for the last meal Jesus shared with the Twelve and notes this: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that he would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13: 1).Matthew closes his gospel with Jesus’ commission to go out, make disciples. He adds: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28: 20b). Peter was there that day. He writes: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Pe 2: 9-10).
In Israel, God shows how he loves—with action, power, and for all time. In fact, the faithfulness of God, his presence,availability, and love for his people are to be found everywhere, even in the Books of the Law. Moses says this, addressing Israel and us: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keepingthe oath that he swore to your fathers that the LORD has brought you out from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commands to a thousand generations” (Deut 7: 8-9).
The thing I notice is that Moses doesn’t just say God loves his people. He describes the particular ways the LORDhas acted on their behalf, confronting the Egyptians, exposing their false gods, and delivering the Hebrews from cruel bondage. Moses continues: “[He] repays to their face those who hate him by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7: 10). We have only to remember the night of the first Passover when Israel’s God took the lives of all Egypt’s first-born but not those of believing Hebrews, who obeyed and put the blood of the lamb they were commanded to sacrifice on their own doorposts and lintels.
Is there a better biblical expression of God’s love than these words God the Son spoke to a first century Pharisee? Jesus was talking to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that any person who believes in himshall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16, my emphasis). God’s love? Reliable, changeless, never ending? Yes and yes and yes. Each verse of Psalm 118 concludes: “his mercy endures forever.” The lines are often rendered: “Give thanks to the LORD for he is good; his lovingkindness endures forever.”