“I have loved you …”

These words came to me some years ago, and gave me enough comfort that I wanted to be able to find them again; so I wrote down where they could be found, on the Post-It that clings to the inside cover of my traveling Bible. They are from Jeremiah 31:3b:

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Jeremiah was a prophet, in an age when the region-state of Judah was caught in the cross-hairs of conflict between Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia. In Jeremiah’s lifetime, kings were puppeted into place, carried off into exile or killed. Jeremiah was usually in the position of trying to explain current events in terms of an all-powerful Yahweh, who had to be the cause of everything, even tragedy. And yet, in the midst of Judah’s downfall, Jeremiah offers a word of hope, and comfort, that will and must be heard. Even as the temple is destroyed, and the people scattered, the promise is that God has not abandoned, and restoration will come.

On what grounds can the people hope? Not on the basis of their own efforts, or chosenness, but simply on the basis of God’s own love for the people, a gracious love that is faithful and steadfast.

Here I am reading in 2011, some 2500+ years after Jeremiah, in a completely different worldview. I don’t buy the idea that disaster arises when God uses circumstances large or small to punish or instruct, although I can see the hard comfort some take from that degree of control on God’s part. Does that mean I also have to throw out the notion of a gracious God who loves, on a people-wide or personal scale?

I don’t think so. I think the love in these words rings true, down through the ages, and is the bedrock of God’s being.

Another note on time: I am reading these words as a Christian moving from the season of Lent into Holy Week, a time when we remember the events leading up to Jesus’ death … and the resurrection that is the centering differentiator of our faith.

It’s a hard time of year for me, frankly. I have a hard-won understanding of Jesus’ death that differs from that of many Christians around me, even though it’s not that unorthodox. So, out in the world it’s bunnies and chocolate, and in the church it’s blood and guts, and no where are the words I want to hear, the reminders I need, at this time of year and always.

If I “had a church,” I’d try to preach what I’ve come to understand, and what it means. But I don’t. And yet, any bird can tell you that you can’t sit on an egg forever … either you let it hatch, or something dies inside. The tap-tap-tapping coming from somewhere deep inside says “let it hatch.”

I am thankful, then, that this comforting word, Jeremiah quoting God’s love to us, comes to us in the middle of this hard week, when we’ll be confronted with images and words that reflect pain and suffering and death. It’s not that I’m saying we should look away, or not talk about what happened. But with this word to start our meditations, we have to see differently. Any understanding (i.e., theology) we come to about the crucifixion and resurrection has to make sense in light of God’s gracious love. A God who says:

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

that God does not send any one to die, much less abandon any one, much less God’s own. (Although to hear Jesus tell it, God loves us just as much as God loved Jesus.)

So, the explanation I heard growing up — that all our sins were piled on Jesus, rendering him so sin-fully ugly that God could not bear to look at him, and turned away — well, that’s just a bunch of crap, I’ve come to believe, along with the feminist theologians who call this the “divine child abuse” theory of atonement. I could enumerate all the other theories of salvation that similarly rely on God’s intent for Jesus’ death; I could explore how some theories try to make it better by telling us that — thanks to trinitarian understandings — it’s really God on the cross, so it’s not really God punishing Jesus, it’s God taking on the dirty job Godself.

You can have those theories, if you need them. I don’t.

I need a God who wouldn’t hurt God’s own children, and who wouldn’t want us hurting each other. I need a God who would never abandon any of us, and who loves us so much that God wanted to live with us and walk among us, and show us as clearly as possible what God’s love looks like.

That’s the God I love; the one that put skin on and became a baby and a son and a brother and a working-class carpenter and a rabbi. The One that held tight to a belief that a non-violent love — even in the face of an outraged empire and a colluding church — was the only love worth its name. The One willing to die to show us a love that will never abandon us, even when we abandon it.

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

This is the God I can feel around me when I am lost in a vocational desert. This is the God I can feel near me, encouraging me to keep going when my little bit is not enough. This is the God I can feel rising up in me when I need to stand tall and speak against structural injustices predicated on the othering of difference, against economic unfairness criminally enriching a very few and impoverishing too many, against the victimization a colluding church is still trying to perpetrate against children, women, gayfolk and other outsiders. The God I know through Jesus’ walk to Golgotha is a God who knows what it is to be outside, fighting to the death for love. The God I know has walked so far down that road that there is no place I need to go that God has not already been; the God of accompaniment walks with me always, even and especially when I forget.

The not-forsaken road

My God says,

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

I will not forget.

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One Response to “I have loved you …”

  1. columbusjo says:

    Tam, I enjoyed reading your reflection. These are words I needed today. They will stay with me as we move deeper into the week, deeper into The Story. Bless you!

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