Violent Love

When we think of the word violence, more often than not, it is in the context of brutality, behavior that is designed to bring harm or hurt someone. But violence can also be defined as strength of emotion. Love can be violent. God’s love can be violent.

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel…?
My heart is turned over within Me,
All My compassions are kindled.

If you read the verses above in their context you’ll find that these words are what God said as he was yearning over his people. He had delivered them, healed them, fed them, and loved them; but still, they turned away from him. If you’ll allow me a bit of anthropomorphism:

God was hurt, angry and upset with the way he had been treated by those who should have loved him. He knew and would be directly involved in the consequences their hard hearts would bring about, and he was moved with emotion. He was pained and grieved.

But he decided that he would not come to them in anger or wrath. Instead, he chose to respond with violent love. In the midst of the turmoil their faithlessness was to incur, his love would sound off like a roaring lion, and his people would tremble as they returned to him.

In the book of John, we again see God overcome with emotion. As Jesus stood by the tomb of his friend Lazarus, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.” Jesus stood there, observing the scene, overcome with emotion, and cried out with a love so violent that the dead came back to life.

Probably all of us have people in our lives, people we care for deeply who are set about on a course that is bringing them heartache and destruction. We know that if they do not change the end will be devastating. We experience the whole gamut of emotions as we stand by, seemingly helpless to do anything that would help them. Anger. Frustration. Disbelief. Longing. We are taken by these emotions with such violence that it literally causes us pain. While these emotions are inevitable and natural, it is only violent love that can affect change and bring deliverance. But how does this violent love express itself in and through us?

As in the instances of God’s grief over Israel and his emotion at Lazarus’ tomb, the one who loves violently is moved by the suffering of others. We do not merely recognize the pain in the lives of others- we “assume” it. We invest ourselves in their predicament and become a means by which they can experience freedom in the love of God. Our natural inclinations towards frustration and anger are tempered by the grace provided through our union with Jesus, and we are willing to accept the vulnerability love demands. Though we are pained by the realization that our loved ones are bound for heartache and suffering should they persist in their destructive behavior, even though we know that the process of their freedom will be painful (for them and us), the violent love of God moves in and through us, roaring like a lion. In the Spirit, strength and love of Jesus, through prayer, intercession and relationship we violently throw ourselves against the stone that has been rolled over their hearts to entomb them. We never stop believing, hoping and enduring. Violent love, expressing itself through unyielding faith and hope cries out, “Lazarus, come forth!!!”

For those who, like Israel of old, have become bound, desolate and feel forsaken, the violent love of God proclaims:

Because I love Zion,
    I will not keep still.
Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
    I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
    until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
    and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
The nations will see your righteousness.
    World leaders will be blinded by your glory.
And you will be given a new name
    by the Lord’s own mouth.
The Lord will hold you in his hand for all to see—
    a splendid crown in the hand of God.
Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City”
    or “The Desolate Land.”
Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight”
    and “The Bride of God,”
for the Lord delights in you
    and will claim you as his bride.
Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem,
    just as a young man commits himself to his bride.
Then God will rejoice over you
    as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

O Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen on your walls;
    they will pray day and night, continually.
    Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord.
Give the Lord no rest until he completes his work,
    until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth.
The Lord has sworn to Jerusalem by his own strength:
    “I will never again hand you over to your enemies.
Never again will foreign warriors come
    and take away your grain and new wine.
You raised the grain, and you will eat it,
    praising the Lord.
Within the courtyards of the Temple,
    you yourselves will drink the wine you have pressed.”

10 Go out through the gates!
    Prepare the highway for my people to return!
Smooth out the road; pull out the boulders;
    raise a flag for all the nations to see.
11 The Lord has sent this message to every land:
    “Tell the people of Israel,[e]
‘Look, your Savior is coming.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.’”
12 They will be called “The Holy People”
    and “The People Redeemed by the Lord.”
And Jerusalem will be known as “The Desirable Place”
    and “The City No Longer Forsaken.”

(Thanks Liz.)


Whatever It Takes

“Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.”

It is an awesome thing, after you’ve lived a while, to look back and see how the faithful love of the Lord has always been there. Constantly working to bring you to himself even when you weren’t aware of it, even when you were running with all your might in the opposite direction. To have lived some years and to have gained the perspective that only time can afford is a wonderful thing. What seemed like a jumbled tale of happenstance and random events crystalizes into a glorious story of the steadfast love of the God who will do whatever it takes. And for me, I think that Psalm 107 illustrates this point as well as any pericope in the Bible.

The author of the Psalm describes several groups of people (I’ll call them wanderers, prisoners, fools, and merchants.), and he describes their journeys and how God moved on their behalf. The wanderers were poor and destitute, without food and drink, close to death. But God heard their cry and rescued them. The prisoners had outright rebelled against the Lord. Their rebellion had bound them in misery and gloom. But God, in his mercy “broke them with hard labor; they fell, and no one was there to help them.” Then they cried to the Lord, and he delivered them and “broke down their prison gates of bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron.” Then there were the fools who also turned from God, and in their folly found nothing but dissatisfaction, deep discontentment that ate away at their very lives. But when they cried to the Lord he “sent out his word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death.” Finally, there were the merchants, sailing the seas, perhaps with minds only set on finance. But when the storms struck and their ships were tossed around, they feared for their lives and called on God who “calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.”

The story goes on to tell of rivers being changed to deserts, “and springs of water into dry, thirsty land. He [God] turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands, because of the wickedness of those who live there. But he also turns deserts into pools of water the dry land into springs of water.” This Psalm provides a beautiful description of God’s faithful love, it’s both poetic and eloquent. In it you see that God is the God who will do whatever it takes to deliver his people. In the midst of our wandering, when chains have bound our foolish, rebellious heart, when we’re giving all of our energy in pursuit of the riches of this world; this Psalm shows us that God will do whatever it takes to bring us to himself. But I can do you one better than Psalm 107.

The “whatever it takes” ultimately meant that God would become part of his creation. In the man Jesus, the unimaginable occurred: God joined divinity and humanity. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God displayed his great love and willingness to do whatever it takes to join us with himself. He personally becomes part of his creation. His appearance means that instead of being wanderers, we are adopted into his family. We are prisoners no more, for he himself has come to make us free. He has rescued us from the folly of seeking our own way by becoming wisdom for us. And instead of being mere merchants, relentlessly bargaining for the riches of this world; he has become our treasure and desire. This was his plan all along, and it gave him great joy to do so. What we see in pictures and poetry in Psalm 107 becomes flesh and blood in Jesus. We now know that the ultimate goal of God’s faithful love was not only to deliver us from the death, insanity and brokenness of sin, but to actually join us with himself. And in Jesus he says, “This is how far I’m willing to go! You in me and me in you- whatever it takes.”