“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
How would you answer if someone asked, “What is the opposite of love?” You might say “hatred.” Some people will call “anger” the opposite of love.
Anger is not the opposite of love. There is something crueler than that: apathy. Love cares; apathy, by its very definition, does not care and could not care less. Love will inspire deep emotion. When we love somebody and see them destroying themselves, we cannot help but get angry. However, if we do not care, we can simply ignore that person. We might try to ignore the strange person we see wandering down the street, obviously stoned or drunk out of his mind, and hope he does not bother us; however, if he is our son, brother, or someone else we care for, we will not be able to look the other way.
Some people think that the idea of “the wrath of God” contradicts the notion of a loving God. If God is love, how can He get angry? The answer is that, because God is love, He does not ignore sin. He will not mindlessly sit on the sidelines and ignore our antics while we destroy our lives, the lives of other people He loves, or the world He created. He is love. He must care. Because He cares, He has to act, and sometimes it hurts.
The prophet Jeremiah served God during a time of national calamity. The northern kingdom of Israel was already in exile, having been overrun by Assyria around 740-733 BC. About 150 years later, Jeremiah watched as the nation of Judah continued to spiral into idolatry and immorality. The people ignored prophetic warnings of divine judgment even after the Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem. Jeremiah would see the nation’s leaders dragged into exile as Jerusalem and the rest of Judah were destroyed.
It would be easy to think that God had given up on His people. The land looked God-forsaken. The people seemed abandoned by God. Some were ready to give up on God, thinking He had given up on them.
Even in that time of judgment, God still loved His people. Many of Jeremiah’s prophecies urged the people to remain faithful to God wherever He placed them, because He had not given up on them. We often think of judgment as being eternal damnation, but often what looks like divine judgment is divine discipline. God was preparing His people for repentance, renewal, and restoration:
“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart’” (Jeremiah 29:10-13).
God assured His people that He would bless them again. His discipline was an expression of His love for them. His heart has not changed. He will still work the same way in our lives.
“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:7-11).
It is tempting to feel abandoned by God when life seems unfair or painful. However, He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Sometimes, suffering or sorrow is a form of discipline. Instead of asking, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we should ask the following questions:
- What can I learn from this?
- What are You trying to teach me?
- Have I wandered from Your will?
- How do I get back into Your will?
- How can I follow You faithfully during this hard time?
God’s love is eternal. It outlasts hardship. It endures beyond pain and suffering. God remains faithful and continues to love us when we may not be sure we can love ourselves. No matter what you are going through or how far you have wandered from His will, He is still just a prayer away.
I would like to hear from you. How do you seek God when He seems distant or it looks like He is allowing you to suffer? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.