Friday, May 10, 2013

To the Heavens

Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
   your justice like the great deep.
   You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
   People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
   you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
   in your light we see light.
-Psalm 36:5-9 (NIV)

It's nice when someone expresses love for you that they can only quantify by telling you what it exceeds.
    You know what I mean, right? “I love you more than life.” “I'll love you forever.” “There's nothing that could make me stop loving you.” You've heard words like that in movies, in songs. Maybe in real life.
    When Josh was little, and was learning about the solar system, he and Laura had a saying that they used to express love to each other: “I love you all the way to Charon and back.” (Charon is one of Pluto's moons. Get it?)
    Maybe someone has expressed limitless love to you, too.
    Was it true? Did their actions back up their words? Maybe so. But maybe not. It might be that you've heard those words, only to discover too soon that “forever” really meant, “as long as you make me feel good” or that “nothing can make me stop loving you” really meant “nothing but this list right here.” You know how easily human beings can throw words around. You know too well that “limitless” love can get pretty limited pretty quickly.
   It's possible, too, that you’ve never heard words like that. You've wanted to. You've dreamed about it. You've imagined a parent or child or spouse or friend who would promise you limitless love and mean it. But it's never happened to you. Try as you might, you can't think of a single person who would even be willing to say that she loves you without limit.
    Well, if you've heard those words but they turned out to be lies, or if you've never heard them at all, then you need to know that there is someone who truly does love you without limit. He loves you more than anyone ever has or ever will. If his love were say, marbles, there wouldn't be enough space in the universe to hold his for you. There really is nothing you can do to make him stop loving you. And he actually does love you more than life - and he proved it.
    You know, of course, that I'm going to say that it's God who loves you that much. You would probably say that you know that he does, and you probably do. But humor me, because I'm absolutely convinced that if we could be more certain of God's limitless love for us then we wouldn't be so broken and bitter when the love of human beings turns out to be limited and conditional.
    The psalmist piles up words and phrases to describe God's love. “Faithfulness” - he's always there. “Righteousness” - he always treats us right. “Justice” - he's never unfair. The poet says that God “preserves” us and that we can “take refuge” in him. He promises that we can “feast on the abundance of [God's] house” and “drink from [his] river of delights.” But maybe his most picturesque tribute to God's love is that it “reaches to the heavens.”
    “All the way to Charon and back,” the psalmist might say if he was as interested in astronomy as my son was back in the day.
    We think, I suppose, that God's love is more about the next world than this one. We harbor doubts, I think, that he could love us - with all our sins - as much as the Bible says he does. We think of God's love in abstract terms while we think of the love of human beings in physical, emotional, and psychological terms. We feel valued when someone hugs us, or holds our hand, or wants us sexually, or says positive things about us. We feel like we matter when someone does something nice for us or wants to spend time with us.
    God knows that about us, I think, which is why his love is more than words on a page. He has created for us a world that, despite humanity's best efforts to mess it up, is still a beautiful, hospitable, and life sustaining home for us. He has consistently intervened in human affairs, sometimes dramatically, to show his love for us. And he surrounds us with people time and time again who do his work of loving us, caring for us, and giving meaning to our lives.
    Oh, and there's also the whole Jesus thing.
    If the gospel is true, then it means above all that God loves us. We matter enough to him that he would come and live among us. He would suffer hunger and be too cold and too hot, he would get tired and he would get thirsty and he would get sick. He would wade out into the sewage of disease, hatred, violence, injustice, and despair that we had spilled across his planet and pull out people who were going under. And, in the end, he would die like us. And he would die for us, so that in history's greatest paradox we can enjoy life with him.
    Why? Because he loves you without limit. No, it's not that he loves human beings in general. It's not that he potentially loves you, that when your probationary period is up if you've minded your p's and q's he just might toss a scrap or two of love your way. He loves you, right now, where you are, without limit. There is nothing you can do to make him stop. His love for you, right now, where you are, reaches to the heavens. He will never leave you alone. He will never treat you wrongly or unjustly. He preserves your life and offers you refuge in him. And there is a seat at his table with your name on it, where all his delicacies await you.
    Whatever your experience of “limitless” human love might have brought you, God loves you more than any human being ever could. Accept the limitless love that the gospel offers by offering your love in return. Then live in fellowship with the Lord and with his church, where you can begin to experience the love of the Holy Spirit day by day.
    And your skies will be full.

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