June 2, 2020

The Refuge of Love


Life, as we know, can be hard enough: family, health, and money problems, whatever. But add to that a global pandemic? How do we cope? How do we find hope amid a world that often betrays us, that in a moment turns on us and exposes us in all our weaknesses and helplessness?

The only answer is to take refuge in God’s love. And that works only when we experience for ourselves the reality of this love. Scripture says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8),* so knowing God means knowing His love.

How, then, do we come to know God and His love?

First, the gospel. I’m not talking expounding on Arminian soteriology, doing textual criticism, or parsing the nuances of hilastērion. I’m talking about accepting that no matter how corrupt we are (and we know how corrupt we are), no matter how much we don’t deserve it (and we don’t deserve it, that’s the point), Christ’s death covers us, and we are accepted in Him.

Dwell on Isaiah 53. Christ bore our transgressions, our sins, our iniquities. We just claim it and live in that promise. Read Psalm 51. An adulterer, a liar, a murderer—yet, what? David knew, for himself, the forgiveness that God offered—and he knew it without the revelation of the cross that we are privileged now to have. Read Romans 3-5, which includes this: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Rom. 4:1-3).

And just as it was accounted to Abraham, it’s accounted to us. Only by believing it and experiencing that acceptance, and rejoicing in it despite our own unworthiness, will we know the reality of God’s love.

Second, obedience. It’s hard to fully explain, because it’s something we have to experience for ourselves, but obedience to God draws us closer to Him. “This is love for God: to keep his commands” (1 John 5:3). We are used to looking at this verse as, well, we love God, therefore, we keep His commandments. That’s fine. But perhaps we can also read it as “this is the love of God,” that is, we know and experience the love of God by keeping His commandments.

Look at it from a negative perspective. Who hasn’t experienced the alienation, the doubt, the fear, the intimations of hopelessness that come from when we openly disobey God? “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isa. 59:2). It works the opposite way as well. By being faithful, by obeying, by doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord we can know for ourselves the reality of His love.

Third, thankfulness. No matter who we are, no matter how tough it gets (and it gets tough), we all have things to be thankful for. Thus, be thankful for them. Thank God for them. Praise God for them. Dwell on them. Rejoice in them.

The Bible writers, who knew pain, suffering, sickness, loss alienation, and death, could still exclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (1 Chron. 16:34). Or “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6, 7).

Fourth, ministering to others. Probably nothing draws us closer to God than ministering unselfishly to others. That’s what Jesus did; and when we do the same, giving of ourselves and asking and expecting nothing in return, we will be overwhelmed with the sense of God’s love, because this is what God’s love is all about. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3, 4).

To give ourselves to others is a powerful way to know and experience the love of God. It’s as if the cosmos is all gears, and by our loving and serving others, our gears mesh succinctly and accurately with the other gears in God’s creation.

Fifth, nature. The created world, even after 6,000 years of sin, still screams out about God’s love. Every flower, every grain of wheat, every apple tree is a blatant in-your-face expression of God’s love.

Some might believe that the blind forces of evolution created peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, lemons, grapefruit, tomatoes, avocadoes, blueberries, bananas, and on and on and on. Let them. But for those whose eyes are not tainted and colored by the great myths of the modern age (materialism, atheism, scientism, evolution), nature declares God’s love, and in every language too. Though talking specifically about the heavens when David wrote, “There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:3, KJV), the principle remains true about the earth as well: nature speaks to everyone about God’s power and love, even if not everyone listens.

The mere fact that we are here, that we exist, that this world exists, that fruit grows on trees, that flowers bloom and birds sing is a miracle, the result of so many things that didn’t have to happen but did anyway, and only because God did it all.

That’s rich, Goldstein—in the middle of a pandemic talking about the wonders of nature! But the mere fact that the pandemic is deemed so bad, so out of the ordinary, declares just how good the ordinary often is.

And it is good, amazingly and miraculously good. Nature every day and in most every way throws in our faces the love of God so blatantly that only an irrational exuberance not to believe blinds people to the love of God revealed there. Open your heart and luxuriate in God’s love as expressed in nature because it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

There was this old song: “I beg your pardon / I never promised you a rose garden.” No one, not even God, promised us a rose garden, at least not here and now. But He promised something better later: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Rev. 22:1-3).

Who wouldn’t take that over any rose garden here?

Until then, we live in this hard world, which the pandemic has made only harder. That’s why we need to take refuge in God’s love.

And we know His love (1) by trusting in Him for salvation, (2) by obeying Him, (3) by being thankful to Him, (4) by ministering to others, and (5) by marveling in His creation.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.

*Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.