The love we need
She was poor and downtrodden. With little to call her own and even less hope for a better future, she felt virtually enslaved by her helplessness. But worse than this, she was disagreeable, unlovely, and complaining.
He was wealthy and powerful, with immeasurable possessions and even greater authority. But better than that, he was good, moral, and upstanding.
So one could be forgiven for a measure of incredulity when he chose her to be his bride. Though she hardly knew him, she recognized his offer as an opportunity she would be wise not to refuse.
They were obviously mismatched, but he loved her and gave her everything she needed. Though not particularly attractive in appearance, he provided many things of great beauty for her to enjoy. All he asked was that she return his love and allow him to lovingly lead as the head of their household.
At first she was appreciative and submissive. Occasional demonstrations of his great power and influence left no doubt that he was without equal, and she was impressed. But once she became accustomed to her wealthy status, she forgot how poor she had been without him and how he had rescued her out of enslavement, and she asserted her independence, reneging on her promise to love and submit.
Choosing the company of promiscuous women, she began to imagine herself in an adulterous affair, and before long was engaged in one. Having thereby broken her marriage covenant, she forfeited her husband’s protection and provision and moved in with her lover. Eventually he began to mistreat and abuse her and she remembered the gentle and compassionate ways of him to whom she was still wed, and she begged him to take her back. Which he did.
But it wasn’t many days before she began to wander again, and the cycle of forsaking, repenting, and returning would repeat multiple times until he finally resigned himself to the reality that her heart was never his and never would be. And he reluctantly divorced her.
This parable isn’t found in the Bible…and yet it is. It’s the basic storyline of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. He chose them, though they were small, unimportant, and prone to sin (they were human, after all), showered them with love, mercy, and blessing, and repeatedly restored them to himself after they forsook him for other gods. Why did they even once reject the perfect love of their Creator and go after what was greatly inferior?
It’s a question I think we need to ask ourselves today. Why, when the Bible clearly teaches that God so loves us that he sent his Son to die in our place, do we rebuff his love and go after temporal, worldly things that we think will satisfy us more but in the end leave us empty? We might suppose that it’s symptomatic of a weak faith…a suppressed but undeniable uncertainty that he even exists. But the Israelites, though never seeing his face nor form, did hear his voice and see multiple miracles that he did and told them he would do before he did them. He was with them constantly as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night as he guided them through the wilderness. They knew without a doubt he was real, and yet they rejected him.
Maybe we’ve been hurt by someone who said they loved us, so we’re skeptical of God’s declarations of love. Or maybe we’re just too stubborn and proud to submit to him…we can believe that he loves us, but we don’t really care. Like a wayward child hating the loving discipline of a parent, we go looking for something that will satisfy our selfish lusts and desires. But if that something caters to our selfishness, it’s not love.
Perhaps that’s the most common reason that we, though craving love, spurn the one who offers it unconditionally. Because it must (by necessity because it’s real love and we are rebellious) come with discipline. We prefer a love that makes no demands on us…that dotes on us like a mother with her infant, or an infatuated young groom with his bride.
But the love we need is not soft, sappy, or sentimental. That’s not to say that the rapturous joys of tenderly kissing the sweet face of your newborn child, or lying in the arms of your beloved, are not emblematic of real love. Nor that selflessly focusing all your time and attention on serving and caring for another is something less than love. Only that true love is all these and more.
When that child grows into self-awareness and begins testing his boundaries, his mother who loves him with an undying, sacrificial love that would step in front of a speeding car for him, will make him cry. She will look at him sternly and cause him pain, physically or emotionally, and he will wonder if she loves him anymore. But then she will wrap him in her arms, fighting back her own tears, and assure him that it’s precisely because she loves him so very much that she must teach him to be good. Because being good is good for him. In fact, training him to be obedient, considerate, temperate, contented, generous, loving, industrious, and self-controlled, is the very best gift she can give him.
The love we need is not always the love we want. But rejecting love because it requires our cooperation in the sometimes painful process of becoming lovely, is a sign of immaturity at best, and the height of folly at worst. The perfect love of God meets us where we are, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8), but it doesn’t leave us there, “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)
Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” (Revelation 3:19) And the writer to the Hebrews affirms that, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
The maxim is true…love hurts. It’s only natural to resist pain, but perhaps supernatural to willingly suffer for the sake of love…in the giving and in the receiving. This is the Love that went to the cross for you and me, and there is none greater. Is there any good reason to turn our back on such a love?