If you had to take a pencil and a piece of paper (if anyone even uses that anymore!) and write a paragraph describing the love of God, what would you write? If I were to ask you the ways in which God was currently showering you with love and blessing, what evidence would you show me?
I want to look at a familiar passage that has the potential to challenge and re-frame the way we think about the love of God. There are many passages in the Bible like this, but I'm using this one to launch a new five-part series on Judges 6-7 this week.
Here's the first excerpt of the passage:
MIDIAN OPPRESSES ISRAEL
"The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number-both they and their camels could not be counted-so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD" (Judges 6:1-6, ESV).
Israel is obviously in despair. They are living like animals in the caves of the mountains because they're dreadfully afraid of their enemies. Their fear is justified, because every time they plant crops or make progress, invaders come like locusts and devour their food and livestock, leaving them homeless and starving.
If you were to look at this situation from the outside, you would find it hard to find the love of God anywhere. Where is the covenant faithfulness of the Lord when His people are in need? Where is His goodness when His children are under attack? It's tempting to look at God and see a loveless Father.
But read Judges 6:1 again - "The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years." This moment in the history of Israel is not a picture of God turning His back on Israel; in fact, God is turning towards them.
You won't understand the love of God unless you understand that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4). If God was going to turn His back on Israel and abandon His covenant promise, He would have allowed Israel to pursue after their idols. He wouldn't have intervened by giving Israel into the hand of Midian for seven years.
I would argue that true love is always jealous. Think about this - if your spouse comes to you and says, "Dear, I love you, but there are several other men/women that I love and want to spend my life with," you should be angry with jealousy. If that didn't anger you, I would guess that you don't truly love your spouse.
In the same way, if God were to say, "Fine - have at it with your idols," you would have to make the conclusion that God isn't as loving as He claims. The love of God cannot, and will not, allow Israel to chase after their idols while He sits silently and watches.
ARE YOU SUFFERING?
So what's the application for you today? Perhaps the opposition and difficulty that you're facing is not, in fact, the trials of the enemy, but the discipline of a loving heavenly Father. This passage reveals that God not only allows - but indeed willingly causes - trial and suffering in order to reclaim our hearts.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 51:8 - "Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice." God, in love, is more concerned that our hearts would run after Him than He is the ease of our situation.
If you're reading this today, maybe God is calling you back. Maybe the Lord is allowing you to suffer like Israel so that your heart would find its greatest pleasure in allegiance with the Father. Maybe God is bringing you back inside His loving boundaries, and the pain that you're experiencing is because you're fighting so hard against Him.
None of these things are the result of you being unloved; rather, it's the most beautiful blessing you could ever receive.