Friday's post raised a couple of interesting questions that are worth taking a closer look at. The first is the idea of man's unfaithfulness and God's turning away from His people.
When we speak of the history of God's people, we see clearly a pattern of Israel wavering between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, a repeated narrative of their turning toward and then turning away from God. And in response, we see God's turning away and then turning back to them. And it's tempting to say that Israel's unfaithfulness caused God's turning away, that because they forsook Him, He forsaked them.
But is that really our God?
The God we know, the God we love, the God we worship has never played tit for tat. He's just not that kind of God. We see that in the doctrine of grace, of course, that God is so often giving us the things we do not deserve. We see it in mercy, that neither are we receiving so often the things we do deserve. We see it in our faithfulness, in stories of Job and modern-day struggles; our faithfulness guarantees us no earthly reward. Hard times and trials still come. We are not always rewarded for our faithfulness; sometimes, we are tested for it. God's economy is simply not one-for-one. It can't be.
Love's no simple equation.
More troubling than its consequences to love, however, are this idea's consequences to God. Who is this God if He is controlled by our behavior? Who is He if He is merely a response to us? Who is this God that we can turn away from and thereby turn away from us? It is convenient to have a God when you want Him and not when you don't, but that's not the nature of any true God.
Would this God be our God if we could simply blow away the smoke?
So this idea that God turns away from His people in response to their unfaithfulness has less to do with the people and more to do with the heart of God. Actually, it has everything to do with the heart of God. The same God who turned away from His Son on the Cross is the same God who turned away from His nation Israel.
His broken heart just couldn't bear to look any more.
He couldn't stand to watch this world tear us apart for one more minute. He couldn't stomach the sight of any more of our blood running out on the ground. He couldn't let His ears hear one more word of mocking. When His people turned away from Him, He knew...He knew they were about to be hurt, and He couldn't bear to watch. His heart tearing, He turned away, lest His love overstep its bounds.
That's always the danger with God; that's His greatest temptation - that love would overstep its bounds. That love would play hero rather than holder, that it would be raider rather than romancer. That love would respond where it wasn't called, that it would give itself too freely and be mistaken for something so much less.
Love is free, but it isn't without cost. Love given too easily comes to be relied on as assurance, not treasured as affection. Were God to let love run free, we wouldn't recognize it as love at all. We wouldn't know Him as a lover. We would merely expect it, and love is so much unexpected. See, love turns away sometimes instead of rushing in so that it may always - always - be freely chosen. Love must always be chosen.
So He holds love in His heavy heart as He watches this world turn away. And then there's nothing left to do but to turn away Himself. We have not turned Him away. No matter what we do, we can never turn Him away.
But He turns Himself away because it the only way. It's the only way to hold onto love. He turns away not because He has lost His love, but because He is desperate to preserve it, to shelter it from the brokenness running rampant through our camps. In the hardest of moments, in the toughest of times, He turns away so as not to taint that love, not to offer some cheap substitute. So that we can know this God of grace, this God of mercy, this God of ours...is above all things a God of love.