Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Devotional for the Thirty-Ninth Day of Lent

O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them,
 or mortals that you think of them? 
They are like a breath;
 their days are like a passing shadow. (Psalm 144:3-4)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord”, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

In a course on ministry, my teaching partner and I ask our students to respond in writing to the question, “If God is thinking about you right now, what is on his mind?” You would think that a group of seminary students would be fairly positive in their answers, but the majority usually struggle with the idea that God is thinking anything positive about them, or even thinking about them at all. It’s a tough place for them to be, and it has changed the way we teach the course.

I wonder if the responses of my students mirror the way most people feel about God. Certainly the psalmist reflects on the temporal nature of human life. We are born, we live for a while, and sooner or later we die. People just seem to come and go on planet earth, like a bunch of shadows that ultimately lack any substance. Why would God be concerned about these mortal puffs of wind?

One of the crazy things about the Bible is that it keeps telling the story of the God who thinks constantly, cares deeply, and acts redemptively toward human beings. Yes, there is much said about God’s anger and wrath, but most of that is consequential; God’s wrath is usually expressed in people getting what results from their misbehavior. Even so, God keeps coming back at people, renewing covenants, forgiving sin, bringing hope and promise. This God of greatness keeps coming at us, living among us, drawing us toward him in love and healing. It’s a crazy story. But it’s crazy enough to bring us hope.

Jeremiah seems to describe God’s plan to have a people that no longer “know” him by regulation and requirement, but instead really know him deep within their lives. They will be a people who have experienced the pain of corporate sin, because their entire nation—a nation raised up by God to be his light in the world—turned from God and everyone suffered for it. They will become a people who know God through the transformation of forgiveness, and they will know him as they never have before.

What is God thinking of us—you and me—right now? What do you see in your mind? Is he angry and looking for something to smite you with? Is his back turned because he is disgusted with you? Is he simply preoccupied with things greater than our skinny little existences, and can’t be bothered with thinking about us in the first place? Or is he reaching out, as a loving Father to a broken, wayward child who is stumbling home, hoping for a crumb of bread, only to find a feast spread out, the music turned up, and joy enough for everyone?

God is thinking of you right now. What does he think?

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