No earthly father loves like thee,
No mother half so mild
Bears and forbears, as thou hast done
With me, thy sinful child.
(Frederick Faber, 1848)
My soon-to-be three-year-old son is learning how to dress himself. He’s doing so consistently well now with only an occasional “tag in the back” sermon. I do confess, however, that I’ve been less than patient in this process (read: sinfully exasperating).
How many times do I have to lay out his shirt and shorts such that all he has to do is put his head or feet in them? He doesn’t have to turn them right side-out, flip them around, or turn them over. After ten minutes of demeaning exasperation I would huff and snort, stomp in his room, jerk away his twisted up shirt and lay it out again for the umpteenth time. He knew he needed help but was scared to ask because of what I would say. Eventually, and since there are only so many holes that his head fits, he would get it right and joyfully exclaim, “I did it, Dad! See, tag in the back!”
“Yeah, Son, but only after an unacceptable fit and unnecessary help. Next time figure it out.” I know. What a jerk.
Believe it or not, the worst thing about my attitude was not angry impatience, as bad as it was (or is!). The worst thing is that my son didn’t get a clear picture of God and his gospel. Perhaps that is because I’ve not contemplated enough how God really responds to those who can’t clothe themselves rightly.
I wonder if some of us view the cross as an expression of God’s frustration with us, rather than the expression of his love. God gave us opportunity after opportunity, grace after grace, example after example. He laid out his expectations as I laid out my son’s clothes. All we had to do was obey what was right in front of us.
But we bungled it and made a mess of his law. We turned it inside-out and upside-down. And after generations of seeing us fumble through life, God rolled his eyes, huffed and stomped into history to do what we obviously couldn’t do ourselves. Now we live under God’s constant scour, trying our damnedest to get it right so that we don’t suffer his scorn again. We don’t want to hear God say again, “Figure it out, for crying out loud, I’ve done all I need to do for you!” At least that’s what my son must think.
Dear friends, the cross was not God’s frustrating attempt to bail us out. It was the highest expression of his love. God didn’t resent saving us; he loved saving us! Why is that so hard for me to receive?
“For in this way [the true meaning of Gk. houtos] God loved the world: he gave the only begotten Son, in order that all those believing in him would not perish but would have eternal life” (Jn 3.16). The motivation for giving Jesus up for merciless execution was his love for us, not his exasperation with us.
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15.13).
“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).
If there is no greater expression of love than laying one’s life down so that a friend can live (Jn 15.13), and God demonstrated his love toward us by laying Christ’s life down for us (Rom 5.8), then God has my definition showered on us the universe’s greatest love. “How great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 Jn 3.1a).
God didn’t stomp into history all red-faced with clinched jaw. He came in meekness and humility, gladly sitting on the floor with those who’d gotten themselves all twisted up in sin. He sympathized with our weaknesses (Heb 4.15) and loved clothing us rightly. It was worth the last drop of Jesus’ blood to make sure we enjoy God’s eternal and eager help. And Jesus made sure we will never fear asking for God’s help because God loves helping his dependent children (Jn 16.26-27; Heb 4.16).
I highly recommend the interview C.J. Mahaney recently conducted with Sinclair Ferguson. I don’t remember exactly where in the interview, but at some point Ferguson said something that still makes me shiver. He said (and I paraphrase) that in reading the NT we’re almost lead to believe that God loves the church more than Jesus. Now he and we know that’s not quite true theologically, but that God crushed his Son and not us certainly leads us closer to the sort of love under which we live. He’d rather give up his Son than give up his church! How great a love, indeed.
I have a one-year-old daughter with a growing wardrobe. I pray be more faithful when we lay out her clothes. When she gets them all twisted up, I hope she’ll gladly ask my help. And I pray I’ll gladly say, “Sweetie, I’m glad you asked my help. You recognize that you cannot do this yourself. So you trust Daddy to help you get it right. That’s the way God deals with his children, too. Daddy needs help all the time, too. And because of Jesus God is never again angry at his sinful children who trust him. He loves to help me so I love to help you. So where’s that tag?”