During my teen years my mother often delivered a final sentence as I gathered my keys and purse and ran out the door to pick up friends for a night of fun. She did not say “I love you” or “have fun” or even “be safe” (although I am sure those may have been said or implied at some point).
It was always this: “Be sure your sins will find you out!” Now this is the last half of a Bible verse, Numbers 32:23. One that, while true in context (when you read the whole thing), only served to create an impression on me that God was an active Whac-a-Mole player. He was bending over the entire Earth’s surface just waiting for someone to sin. Then quickly, without missing a single one of us (because God is perfect), he would land one well-placed crack over the head to keep you in line.
This view of God, while intended to help me make better choices, only served to paint a picture of him that could not be further from the truth. It also didn’t make a great impact on this teenager who tended to believe that life rules were for other folks. I thought, “If I’m getting whacked, then I’m going to make it count!”
While my mother’s phrase of warning is a part of one verse, there are so many more that tell the truest nature of God. “His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). “…a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6). “…Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish” (Joel 2:13).
Go to a Bible App and type in the words “steadfast love.” You will be astounded at the number of times this phrase is found and repeated so very often. It is not talking about our loving nature—we aren’t that great at this—it’s speaking of the God who loves us.
One of my favorite disciples was Peter. Not because of his great sermons, but instead because of his impulsive nature. I totally identify with him. He acted quickly and emotionally, often getting into trouble.
Once he jumped out of a boat in a storm to walk toward Jesus, then he got scared and looked down at the waves … bad idea (Matthew 14:25-33)! Another time he cut off the ear of a soldier who was sent to bring his friend to be imprisoned and sent to the cross, but his actions didn’t change a thing (John 18:3-11). He also denied that same friend three times, though he didn’t think he was capable of such an act (John 18:15-18, John 18:25-26).
Yet I see nowhere in the Bible that Jesus did anything but love Peter, share life with him, and teach him. We see Jesus’ actions repeated during their shared time here on Earth. I have always found it interesting, after the death of Christ, when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome entered the tomb that they received these specific instructions from the angel within the grave, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). It leads one to wonder why “and Peter.” I believe there’s a good chance that after Peter’s threefold denial God knew he needed to be singled out. He needed to be given a second chance. He needed reassurance that his relationship with Jesus was still sure, in spite of his failing, and I think this was a way he was given those very things.
Prior to Jesus’ ascension, one of the final encounters of Peter and Christ was on the beach … just Peter and Jesus, building a fire together, as the other disciples made their way with a net full of fish (John 21:1-11). I can only image the tenderness of the conversation between Jesus and Peter; Jesus, taking this simple life moment to reinforce the strength of his love toward his disciple. I think Peter understood more clearly than ever that God knew who he was all along, yet loved him and believed in him anyway.
It is not talking about our loving nature—we aren’t that great at this—it’s speaking of the God who loves us.
So it really is not the nature of our God to anxiously await the opportunity to whack us over the head (although we will provide him with many moments that are completely justified). It’s the nature of our God to just wait, giving us the time to realize he understands us. And even then, he loves us, patiently, unconditionally, and without reservation. Yes, there will be times a whack is deserved and well-placed as needed. But that will be the exception, not the rule.
From those years of exiting my family home while trying to duck my head just quick enough to be missed all the way to present day, I have learned this: “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” (Psalm 26:3). He loves me ever so well … it is not my faithfulness nor my steadfast love, but it is his. Now that is God, it truly is.