He loves me, he loves me not…?

The game, apparently, has been around for centuries, though the exact origin is disputed. You have a crush on someone and want to know if they feel the same way about you. So you pluck a daisy at random to do a bit of superstitious fortune-telling. “He loves me,” you say, as you pluck off a petal. Then you pluck off the next petal, saying, “He loves me not.” You alternate the sayings as you work your way around the hapless flower; whatever you say when the last petal is pulled is the truth that fate is revealing to you.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this as part of marriage counseling.

How do you know if someone loves you? Emotion may be part of the experience, but love is more than emotion. True love is demonstrated in a commitment to the well-being of the beloved. We may be angry for a time, as when our children misbehave. But that anger doesn’t change the fact that we would immediately want to jump in to save them from any real threat.

Can something similar be said about God’s love?

. . .

Much of the way the gospel is presented today begins with God’s love, and rightly so. When I first became a Christian, for example, it was because someone shared a gospel tract with me that began with the declaration, “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Now there’s a message for you. Shouldn’t everyone want that wonderful plan? Shouldn’t everyone sign up on the spot to believe in and follow a God who loves us so much that he gave his Son for our sake?

Well, I signed up anyway. It seemed the only reasonable thing to do at the time. That was almost 50 years ago.

Over those years, though, I’ve come to think of that way of framing the gospel as being a bit too Madison Avenue: Look at what God can do for you to make your life better! It’s not that the pitch isn’t true, as far as it goes. It’s just that there’s more to the story than that. Much more. Hopefully, we are immersed into that larger story as part of our growth as disciples.

The Psalms can be our teacher.

. . .

This morning, as I reflected on Psalm 60, I was struck by what felt like the psalmist’s boldness in presuming upon God’s love. The psalm begins as a complaint and a cry for help. The situation appears to be one in which the people have suffered a massive, humiliating defeat on the battlefield (vss. 10-12). The psalmist’s imagery suggests that the defeat has turned the people’s world upside-down:

God, you have rejected us—
        shattered us.
    You’ve been so angry.
        Now restore us!
You’ve made the ground quake,
        splitting it open.
    Now repair its cracks
        because it’s shaking apart!
You’ve made your people suffer hardship;
    you’ve given us wine and we stagger
. (vss. 1-3, CEB)

No reason is given for God’s rejection and anger. Other stories of military defeat in the Old Testament would suggest that the people have been disobedient in some way, but if so, the psalmist doesn’t say. The disaster that has befallen them is reminiscent of the story of Korah, who instigated a rebellion against Moses; God made the very ground beneath the rebels split open, swallowing them alive and causing the rest of the people to flee in terror (Num 16:1-34).

Talk about a clear message from God.

Still, in the midst of the lament, the psalmist cries out, “Now restore us!” There’s no word of repentance, no “We’ve learned our lesson,” no “We promise to behave” — just a cry to be restored to a right relationship. Moreover, the psalmist prays: “Save us by your power and answer us so that the people you love might be rescued” (vs. 5).

The people you love. Not, “the people who love you.” Even in the midst of acknowledging God’s holy and devastating wrath, the psalmist calls upon God to act in love.

Doesn’t that seem a bit presumptuous?

. . .

Here’s the irony. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard well-meaning Christians say that the Old Testament is about law, but the New Testament is about grace, as if somehow between the two testaments God somehow had a change of heart. Such an oversimplification simply ignores the facts of what the Bible actually says.

What Psalm 60 demonstrates is a deep confidence in God’s faithfulness and love — even in the face of God’s angry discipline. True, the psalmist knows God to be holy, punishing his people for disobedience. But the psalmist also knows God to be loving. The commandments themselves, after all, were given to the people after God had already demonstrated his covenant faithfulness through the events of the Exodus, when God saved them by his “power” (literally, God’s “right hand,” both here in Ps 60:5 and in Exod 15:6). The people didn’t “deserve” to be rescued from slavery; God led them out of Egypt because he had made a covenant promise, and would remain true to his word. And throughout the stories that followed, God demonstrated that steadfast covenant love again and again.

“God loves you.” Many of us as contemporary Christians would take that statement for granted. But I suspect that our understanding of that love often lacks the depth of confidence displayed by the psalmist. If the truth be told, some of us welcome the gospel message of free forgiveness through God’s love and grace, then go right back to behaving as if God’s love was contingent on being good. On any given day, some of us might as well be plucking petals from spiritual daisies.

Save us because you love us. I’ve prayed similar prayers for other people, but in all honesty, I hesitate to pray such a prayer for myself. Why? Is something true of God’s love for others that isn’t true of God’s love for me? Or do I not really believe that God loves me, despite my disobedience?

May we all have the boldness of the psalmist. May we all have the confidence of the psalmist, knowing that we can call upon the love of God, no matter what the circumstances.