by: Aaron Walsh
John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” song, featuring this very simple yet loaded introductory line, has become an anthem for this generation because it deeply resonates with our hearts; our spirits come alive when encountering the truth of God’s zealous affections for us. His dealings with man are centered in these affections; but they are not simply sentimental.
As I write this this morning, I sit in a prayer room in Tauranga with intercession directed towards and on behalf of Christchurch; I am still rocked to the core by the events (speaking of the earthquake and the reactions associated with it) that took place in the latter just over a month ago. In one way, I hope I never recover—I don’t want to simply forget and move on. I want to carry Christchurch in my heart as long as I am given grace to do so. We pray for that city every day as a community. We pray for her restoration from the ashes, for the Church to emerge as a powerful light that cannot be hidden. Our prayers will continue in the months and years ahead.
In the midst of praying, I have witnessed some clear distinctions about how people view the character and nature of God in this nation. The events last month not only cemented certain theological viewpoints, but also revealed major gulfs between many people’s theology. Some cannot begin to consider that the God they know and relate to could be involved in the crisis, while others deeply affirm the role of their God within it.
The delicate context in which this discussion takes place must be considered. It was our crisis, and it is our people that have been affected. We cannot just posture ourselves as detached theologians armed with principals, verses and opinions. Furthermore, to simply relate to the situation through the pain and suffering without the whole counsel of the word of God will leave us rudderless as we negotiate the seas of perplexity.
Noticeably prominent in the discussion is the bigger question related to Jesus as both Lover of our souls and the Judge of the earth. This is not a new discussion in Church history. It is, however, a discussion I perceive to be incredibly important. The temptation to resort to reductionism is great, but comes at a cost we cannot afford. The love of God is not reduced because He judges, nor is the judgment of God reduced because He loves. The great 20th century theologian A.W. Tozer made this statement in relation to this tension: “God never suspends one attribute in order to execute another.”
Tozer was alluding to our need to view the whole Jesus—as revealed in Scripture. It is unwise for us to simply take a portion of Jesus, typically the portions we enjoy comfortably, and dismiss the rest. He is who He is in the totality of His personhood. I have heard people say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t want to read about Him in the book of Revelation.” I understand their predicament; the Man who loved all whom He met in the first four books of the New Testament shows up in the last one as a Man with tattoos, coming on a white horse with weapons of mass destruction directed at the nations of the earth who have rejected Him (see Revelation 19:11-16). These two faces seem at odds with each other.
How do I then reconcile the goodness of God and His face as Judge? I believe the answer is found in the doctrine of the jealousy of God; because of His fierce commitment towards me, He kindly reveals to me how other lovers have crept into my heart. It is these revelations that reassure me of the fact He loves me too much to allow me to be captured by things that not only will not satisfy me now, they will neither have value in the age to come.
This journey unravels uniquely for each one of us. To describe it, Solomon penned these words while also explaining how our hearts are to be gardens reserved for the Lord alone:
“Awake, o north wind
and come, o south!
Blow upon my garden,
that its spices may flow out.
Let my Beloved come into His garden
and eat its pleasant fruits.”
Song of Solomon, 4:16
Solomon is using poetic language to point out a profound truth, one which stewards the hearts and lives of men: under the leadership of the Almighty, we will be led into testing, suffering and tribulation (this is the “north wind”). And under the leadership of the Almighty, we will be led into blessing, favor and prosperity (this is the “south wind”). The point is this: we need both. The goal of each season is for our hearts to grow in love towards and dependence upon Jesus. Judgment is the expression of His love towards us when the impostors, those “other lovers,” that have taken a wrongful place in our hearts have been revealed. Kindly, He gives the opportunity to partner with Him in their removal from our lives. His jealousy is necessary to compensate for our spiritual blindness. Speaking for myself, I desire the courage to agree with David’s heart found laced throughout his psalms and cry: “How I long for Your judgments, o Lord!” The famous king of Israel understood that God would use the least severe means necessary to awaken his heart to the deepest level of love. The love of God and the judgment of God are not opposed to one another, though they feel paradoxical in nature we must understand the glory of God is the ability for complex attributes to exist in one Being in perfect harmony.
And thus we submit to His jealousy, as McMillan wrote, like a tree beneath the hurricane of His mercy.