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One of the most enduring, surprising, baffling character traits of God is his changelessness. It stands in contrast to how we humans change constantly and continually. We have very little consistency from moment to moment. The human heart is a fickle thing, driven by relationships, disappointments, successes, failures, possessions, pride, ego, and money. We lack consistency and our responses to life’s upheavals change based upon our emotional wholeness.
One definition of maturity is the ability to remain consistent despite circumstances. It is an aspect of growth to find some semblance of steadfastness. In fact, our ability to bring stability to a situation draws people to us. People are desperate for a stable hand in difficult circumstances, because so many lack it.
When the disciples were with Jesus in the boat during the storm, they were desperate for the groundedness of Jesus. Their anxiety was a direct result of a lack of faith. Jesus, in the place of perfect trust and faith was at rest in the midst of the storm. This attitude underlies his trust in the Father.
One morning my daughter can come and speak with me and I am happy with her presence. The next morning, perhaps after a sleepless night, I am tired and want to be left alone. From one day to the next my emotional response to her need changes. What types of things does she learn from my changing nature? One day I can say something in jest to my wife, the next day the same statement may affect her in a wholly different way. We learn to be sensitive to each other and accommodate each others’ needs (on our best days) based upon the changing nature of our emotional disposition. We require various levels of love and affirmation based upon the mood of the day. If we learn this about each other, you can be sure we have applied these lessons to our interaction with God.
Yet the bible states that God never changes. We learn, through every relational interaction that we have in our lives, that the nature of a relationship changes with the emotional needs of the person. However, this is not so with God. He is faithful when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). He is the Lord and He never changes (Malachi 3:6). He is slow to anger and quick to mercy (Psalm 145:8). The reality of God’s consistency flies in the face of what we learn about how to interact with each other. But we are convinced that one day he is angry with us, and another he is pleased. It is far more likely that we are upset or at peace, rather than God changing his emotional disposition towards us from one day to the next. It’s no wonder we read human fickleness into our relationship with God.
When God spoke with Abraham regarding his plan for the eventual nation of Israel, he stated that the people who descended from Abraham would be kept in Egypt until the iniquity of the Amorites had sufficiently built up against them (Genesis 15). God spent 400 years (4 generations) before he metered out judgement. He truly is slow to anger and quick to mercy. The Amorites were a pagan society that practiced black magic, idolatry, and child sacrifice. They were a vicious, conquering people. Yet God is slow in his judgement. If God took 400 years to judge the Amorites, he is patient with your mistakes.
From the beginning of time God has desired intimacy with his creation. This has never changed. When Adam and Eve were commissioned in the garden of Eden to subdue the whole earth, God essentially tells them to do what he just did. He spent his time creating and bringing order to the wild chaos over which his spirit hovered. In going forth and subduing the earth Adam and Eve were to look like him in creation, brining order and life everywhere they went. In this way they became his image in creation.
When Adam and Eve fell by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Father did not bust down the door in a fit of rage, angry and frustrated at their failure. In fact, he came inviting them to intimate relationship:
Genesis 3:8-9 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
As if God did not know where they were. It was not as if Adam and Eve were playing the most incredible game of hide and go seek and God had simply lost track of them. His question, “Where are you?” is not for his sake, but for theirs. The question is really, “Adam and Eve, where are your hearts?” Or, “What has changed about me that has caused you to hide?” God’s immediate response was not to punish, but rather to invite into a conversation.
When the Israelites left Egypt, they knew a God that was powerful and vengeful. They had little idea of the nuances of the heart of God. They did not know a merciful and compassionate being, they knew a being that consumed an entire army in defense of them. Their first response to the physical manifestation of God in their midst betrayed that fact:
Exodus 20:18-21 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Fear dominated their response. God had attempted to demonstrate his heart through the provision of water and manna, but the Israelites were hard-hearted. When God came, they appointed Moses to be their intermediary. But God desired a relationship that was both direct and personal:
Jeremiah 7:22-23 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’
The law came because the people rejected intimacy, just like Adam and Eve had. In the face of our failures, God desires us, yet we reject him. We think statements like he is slow to anger and quick to mercy apply to others and not ourselves.
In John 4:23, Jesus echoes the same sentiments as the Father in Jeremiah 7: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
Those who keep his word are those who hear his voice, those who walk in all the ways they are commanded are those who have a heart revelation of the Father, and those who are known as his people are those who the Father and Son have made their home with. There is a radical consistency from the Old Testament revelation of the heart of God and the New Testament revelation of the heart of God.
His heart has not changed from the beginning to now. He is looking for a people that will open the depths of their heart to him. The problem is, man has a deep heart full of hidden motive.
Psalms 64:6 They devise iniquities: “We have perfected a shrewd scheme.” Both the inward thought and the heart of man are deep.
Man has a deep heart, a place that is mysterious and foreign to him. It is the place that motivates his actions, that drives him. As is the case here, the deep heart of man has caused him to devise schemes against the author of this psalm. But it is not these men who have a deep heart alone, all men and women have a deep heart and inward thought.
Here is a question to ponder, “What is your ‘deep heart’? From our deep heart arise our insecurities, fear, jealousy, and pride. It is the place that is broken and traumatized by our life experiences. It is the deep place of man that must be transformed by God’s grace.
It is this cunning shrewdness of man that drives him away from God, in the face of a God that pursues with reckless abandonment. We are desperately terrified of our façade being found out. But here’s the deal: God already knows.
John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
It is our hearts that dictate our response to him, his response to us never changes, from the oldest of times the Father has desired intimacy with his creation, and that is you. It is his good pleasure to draw you into him:
Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
God’s response to you has not changed. No failure is too grand to overwhelm his forgiveness, because his forgiveness cannot be earned, it is freely granted. You don’t determine how he is towards you. He is desperately longing to enter into deep places of union and intimacy with you. The whole story of scripture is of a lovesick bridegroom searching for his bride.
Lastly, I would like to leave you with the words of a moment I had with the Lord several years ago. I was crying out to him, hurting, wounded, and desperate. And this is what he said to me:
“I saw when you made that decision that brought heartache to you, I saw when others did things to you that hurt you, I saw the times that Satan attacked you. I saw all those things and yet still had a plan for you. I saw the day I would intervene in your life and you wouldn’t even recognize it. I saw the day you would turn to me. I knew the time I would come to you and begin unravelling the hurts. I knew the time you would feel my presence, I knew the time I would speak that truth over you that would bring a measure of freedom to your life, I saw you grope for me. I planned for each process. I saw the beginning, the middle and the end. I saw the time that tragedy would strike, and I saw the moment you would realize I was sovereign then and what I had done in the midst of it. I even saw the time you would realize I had been in control the whole time. I really do have a plan for you. A good plan. I saw each pain and orchestrated healing, I saw each wound and planned the relief, I saw each disappointment and the resultant bitterness and loved you anyway. There isn’t anything you have been through that I did not see or account for. I have been searching for you since the day you were born and I will never stop. I have never, ever, ever been surprised by you and I have never ever been disappointed in you, because disappointment and surprise imply that I didn’t know what you were going to do. I have planned each and every moment intricately, for you, and for me.”
As Andy Dufrense said in The Shawshank Redepmtion, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice: get busy living or get busy dying.” God has never rejected you, why start rejecting him now? When Polycarp, the disciple of John the Beloved, is ordered to recant his faith in Christ, he is famously recorded as having said, “86 years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Perhaps we can use a dose of the tenacity of that type of faith today?
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