The Power and the Pity

Today I was riding the bus and it occurred to me that I am much more comfortable with God’s power than with his love. This was a large realization, but then my stop came and I had to get off and go to tutorial.

And now I am back home and I have a little time to think about that thunderbolt.

I thought of the countless times I’ve been told that the Lord loves me, not from the pulpit, not in song, not in a book that’s sold millions of copies, but by someone sitting next to me, who actually knows me, earnest in conversation. And whenever I hear it in that intimate context, some surge of frank disbelief rises up in my gut, and usually shows itself in my face. Sometimes the kind friend then tries to argue for the truth of the statement (“He does, Alice!”), but more often than not they already have their head bowed in the act of praying for me, so they don’t notice, and I just sit, weltering in discomfort over what the deepest part of me actually believes to be their poor theology. God would not love me, I think. He’s God. He knows better. Why spend your love on someone or something who so obviously, particularly from an Almighty vantage point, really has nothing to offer? Someone who takes up so little space and will inevitably fail at all the important bits? Why bother?

I’ve never said any of this aloud before, of course, and there’s a reason for that. I’ve never said it aloud before because it’s actual bad theology. The worst. It thumbs its nose at something utterly central to God’s character: it denies his pity. His love is not built out of particular affinities for certain people or some set of utilitarian desires like ours too often is. His love is built out of pity: pity that looks down from an Almighty, holy vantage point, sees his people whom he formed out of dust, and is moved, moved to crack open his ribcage and pour out everything within. And to be clear, though something within me still pushes back at writing this, or maybe because something within me still pushes back at writing this, God pities not just his people at large, or us, or you. All of those things are true, but more astounding, God looks down, sees me existing in my little self-made space, failing at all the important bits, offering nothing, and finds himself awash in his own love. And he breaks open his chest for me, a sheep without a shepherd.

Last week I sat in Old Testament during a lecture on the Psalms, and when Iain got to the concept of lament he used Psalm 22 as an example. He pointed out verse six which begins, “But I am a worm and not a man.” He said the Psalmist feels that his own suffering has degraded him, has made him less than human, something vile. Then he added gently, “But, of course, that’s not the truth of the matter.” And sitting in the third row, I started to cry–I guess because I’ve always thought it was.

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