Incomprehensible and unending love

Extracted from “The Child of Light and the Black Dog”: paragraphs that I wrote this morning–

Physical, mental, and emotional addictions often are bad responses to depression. Instead of seeking productive help, people allow depression to push them in patterns that are harmful, unhealthy, and only deepen the dark spiral into further depression rather than offering genuine relief from depression. Do bad spiritual responses to depression also exist? They do indeed, and they can be as dangerous and as harmful as physical and emotional bad responses to depression.

God’s love and forgiveness cannot be measured. There is no limit, no end, to the love of God and to his forgiveness. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12). Astronomers studying the heavens have detected galaxies millions of light years away from us. God’s love is even bigger than that distance. Travelers can reach the north pole and the south pole, but those who travel east or west are never finished—no matter how long and far they travel, there will still be more east or west in front of them. So also, God has removed all our sins an infinite distance from our lives.

Jesus cannot love us too much. We cannot love Jesus too much. Jesus is pure and holy, and his perfect love can never be twisted or distorted. We are sinners, and sometimes our love for him is twisted and distorted. The Sadducees and Pharisees thought that they loved God, but their love for God was so twisted that they did not recognize the Son of God when they saw him with their own eyes and heard his voice with their own ears. They rejected Jesus and tried to destroy him. God’s people today can also lapse into twisted religion or distorted spirituality. We can be distracted from Jesus by the things we do in his name. Religion and spirituality can turn into idols, false gods that separate us from God and his love rather than bringing us closer to the God who loves us and who seeks our love and our faith.

We cannot love Jesus too much. But we can create an idol, call it Jesus, and love that idol too much. The Sadducees were devoted to the worship of God, the animal sacrifices commanded by the Law of Moses. They made compromises with the Romans and with themselves to ensure that the sacrifices would continue. Jesus of Nazareth seemed to threaten their Temple and their worship. Not only did he clear moneychangers and salesmen out of the Temple; he promised to be greater than the Temple. When our worship lives are bigger than Jesus to us, our religion and spirituality have become twisted. When we measure our connection to Jesus by the way our prayers and spiritual songs make us feel about Jesus, we have lost contact with the real Jesus. Our religion has become an idol, taking his place.

Likewise, the Pharisees were committed to learning God’s commands, obeying his rules, and teaching others to do the same. Yet when Jesus showed them how they were wrong about the Sabbath commandment and other interpretations they had added to God’s Law, they rejected Jesus and did not let him correct them. When our religious and spiritual lives center on the things we do for God, we are no longer honoring and worshiping Jesus. We honor and worship ourselves when we focus all our attention on the things we do for him. Our good works have become an idol, taking the place of Jesus in our lives.

Not everyone who says to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” belongs to his kingdom. To some of those idol-worshipers Jesus will respond, “I never knew you.” When those who call themselves Christians distort his religion into idolatry, worshiping their contributions and ignoring what he has done, they harm themselves and also hurt their neighbors. Many people turn away from Christianity and reject the Church because they see the idolatry and hypocrisy in the Church but cannot see Christ’s love. When a sermon becomes incomprehensible and seems unending, that sermon is no longer a picture of God’s love. When our spiritual lives center around what we do for Jesus, we are no longer serving him. We have removed him, and we are serving ourselves.

Depression tempts us into distorted spirituality. We want our broken lives to be fixed. We want to contribute to the solution to our problems. Throwing ourselves entirely on God’s mercy, allowing him to do all the work needed for our rescue, is not natural for sinful and depressed human beings. Total self-denial, total reliance on the Lord, seems like surrender to the forces of darkness. We want to make ourselves children of light. We cannot make that happen; only God can pull us from the darkness and change us into children of light. J.

Thy will be done

Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and faith until we die. This is his good and gracious will.”

Salvageable adds: Those four words, “Thy will be done,” can be the hardest words for a Christian to pray. We are accustomed to delivering our wish lists to God and advising him how to run the universe. We would like to take God’s promises about prayer and use them to make ourselves the lords and make God our slave. The “name it and claim it” approach to prayer completely ignores our relationship to God. He is our Father; we are his children. Because he loves us, he invites us to ask anything of him. Still, because he loves us, he will grant no prayer that is bad for us or that contradicts his master plan for the redemption of the world.

Jesus prayed this difficult prayer in Gethsemane. He begged his Father for another way to rescue sinners; he did not want to drink the cup of God’s wrath, filled with the poison of sin and evil and rebellion. Even as he named the gift—“Let this cup pass from me”—Jesus refused to claim it. Instead, he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This example sets the pattern for every Christian as we live our lives and as we speak with our heavenly Father in prayer.

We are nearly half-way through this prayer, and we have not yet said anything about what we want and need. The first three petitions of the prayer focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and what God wants. Even secular business strategy understands this approach: talk to the customer about the customer first, and the customer will keep listening when you switch to your product or service. Christians are not cynical when we begin our prayers talking to God about God. In both Old and New Testaments, believers began their prayers talking to God about God. They spoke of things God had done in the past and promises he had made. They reminded God of his nature—not because God needs reminders, but because the rest of us need reminders. The more we speak to God about God, the more we are pulled away from our selfish sinfulness and gathered into the saintly habit of loving God more than we love ourselves.

The words “on earth as it is in heaven” apply to all three petitions prayed thus far. “Hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven.” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s name is always holy, except where sinners profane the name of God. God’s kingdom follows his rules, except where sinners break his rules. God’s will is done everywhere in creation except where sinners rebel against him and follow their will rather than God’s will. Some people wonder why God allows sin and evil to exist in his otherwise perfect creation. That question is not the mystery, though. The true mystery is why God loves sinners and rebels so much that he sends his Son as a ransom to reclaim them. The only answer to that mystery is found in the will of God—a gracious, merciful and loving will that wants no one to perish but wants to redeem and reclaim all people. Because that is God’s will, Christians cheerfully and trustingly pray the words, “Thy will be done.” J.