A Love Rarely Understood

A Love Rarely Understood

February tends to be about love.

Many will write and pine for love, true love. Last year, Americans spent nearly $19.7 billion on Valentine’s Day. If measured in dollars, that’s a lotta love. But if we step away from the candy, cards and flowers, it presents an occasion to think about love.

Man’s view of love

To mere earthlings, love is manifold and varicolored. Love is an endless arrangement of emotions, passion, and affection entwined with pain and loss. Beyond expressing love for others, we may love fall weather, babies, puppies, kittens (why, I cannot comprehend), chocolate, travel, warm summer days, the first snow, a day on the beach, a steak, a book, a movie, fresh baked bread or the morning’s first cup of coffee. But loving objects and experiences is not in the same realm as loving one another much less loving God.

Love can be wonderful or disastrous, passionate or indifferent, a revolving camera or nauseating. Love is an endless well for authors and songwriters. While some enjoy and think we understand love to a degree, for too many love is fraught with misunderstanding and unrealistic expectations.

While mankind looks for love, turning to God’s love offers great help.

The Love of God

Translating the different Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words used for love in the Bible, the New American Standard Bible renders these main words love 348 times; the NIV transcribing love 551 times. If we looked at broader expressions of God’s love toward man (care, mercy, compassion, etc.) it would be nearly impossible to count them.

Perhaps the most important Old Testament term describing God’s love is khesed (ḥě·sěḏ). It is always translated lovingkindness in the NASB, everlasting love in the ESV, while the HCSB uses two main English words: kindness (42 times) and faithful love (136 times).  A survey of the way these words are used describing God’s love is a theological feast.

A summary of the way (khesed) kindness and faithful love are used reveals a broad spectrum of meanings including deeds of devotion, faithfulness, favor, good, kind, loyalty, mercy, and unchanging. Many commentators will distill the word group to mean loyal love but that seems to fall a bit short of a full expression.

While any single definition is inadequate let me suggest:  God loves to be loyal to His promises and His covenant people. We may not tend to think of loyalty as love – our language deficit – but think of God the Father who is always loyal to keep His promises. It is God’s character, who He is: He is always true, always faithful, and always loyal to His word and His people.

We often say we believe in the promises of God, but do we connect this to His nature as a loving God and Father? We say God loves us, but do we reflect on the immeasurable nature of His love: that He chose us before the foundation of the world, sent Christ to die for us, indwells us with His Spirit, is merciful, compassionate and forgives us again and again? God never tires of our prayers or gets mad or disappointed and abandons us.

The psalmists paint vivid portraits of His faithful love. Note a few of the verses from Psalm 103:

Psalm 103:3–17 (NASB95)

3Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases;

4Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

5Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

6The Lord performs righteous deeds And judgments for all who are oppressed.

7He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.

8The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

9He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever.

10He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

12As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

13Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

14For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.

15As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

16When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer.

17But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children,

Beyond the specific times khesed faithful love is used, note the broader themes of His love. He forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, has compassion. I would encourage you to take out your Bible and study Psalm 103 and note all the ways the David explains and expresses the ways God loves His people.

Fredrick Lehman wrote most of the hymn The Love of God, in 1917. It is a beautiful portrait of God’s love. Some may not know the history of the third verse. The words were found penciled on the wall of an insane asylum. Many think they were written by a patient, from some recesses of his memory. Researchers attribute the verse to a much older source, a Jewish poem by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, cir. 1050. Below are verse one, the refrain, and verse three:

(Verse 1) The love of God is greater far Than tongue or pen can ever tell; It goes beyond the highest star, And reaches to the lowest hell; The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win; His erring child He reconciled, And pardoned from his sin.

(Refrain) Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

(Verse 3) Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.

No matter what you feel regarding human love, I encourage you to re-think and re-frame your view of God’s love for you. Spouses, parents, siblings, children and close friends may fail us. Rather than becoming jaded or withdrawn, be mindful that we, too, fail in our love toward others. Beyond the broken hearts and broken relationships, the perfect God loves you perfectly. He is indeed the greatest lover of your soul.

  • People will disappoint. It may be difficult to forgive, yet we must. We were forgiven; why would we not forgive others? It is a peevish and immature believer who harbors resentment and bitterness. Maturity is embracing God’s love for me and knowing I am no better than any other person. There but for the grace of God go I…
  • Be thankful for the love you have experienced. Imperfect beings all, yet we have been loved by others. A parent, grandparent, soul-mate, or a rare friend. No matter how broken our lives may be, we can make a choice to remember those who have loved us on the way.
  • God’s love for you transcends human explanation. Scripture is rich in describing this vast immeasurable love He has for you. He loves you. No matter what your experience or what people have done to you, He loves you. Nothing can change that. Not your sin, not your apathy, not your good works.

No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 (HCSB)

Michael Easley

About Michael Easley

Michael is husband to one, dad to four, and host of Michael Easley inContext.

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