Posts Tagged ‘unconditional love’

PSALM 89:20-37

20 I have found my servant David;
    with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 my hand shall always remain with him;
    my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him,
    the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
    and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
    and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
    and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’
27 I will make him the firstborn,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
    and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29 I will establish his line forever,
    and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
30 If his children forsake my law
    and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes
    and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
    and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
    or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant,
    or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
    I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall continue forever,
    and his throne endure before me like the sun.
37 It shall be established forever like the moon,
    an enduring witness in the skies.”

David had known the providence of God in a personal way during the time he was a shepherd in the hills outside Bethlehem. And after he was anointed by the prophet Samuel and eventually became king of Israel, his perception of God’s hand on his life rarely dimmed. No doubt, David suffered bouts and seasons when the divine seemed far away or event antagonistic – witness the many psalms of anguish in the Bible – but in the long view he carried within himself an assurance of God’s ever-present and faithful love.

It may well be that David’s personal experience and faith was the germinal source of the Bible’s belief in an unconditional covenant existing between God and the royal throne. The earlier Mosaic covenant was more conditional, promising prosperity and divine favor to the people so long as they continued in obedience to the commands of God. Notice how the language of the Davidic covenant, on the other hand, is expressive of a unilateral promise on God’s part. “I will not remove from him my steadfast love” and “I will not violate my covenant” are not dependent on David’s moral performance or reputation. God will be faithful and will forgive – no matter what.

Jesus would later expand this notion of God’s unconditional love to include all people, a teaching that got him in trouble because it breaks down our walls of division.

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JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus helped us understand that forgiveness is the essence of God, or Spirit, and that being both forgiven and forgiving is the experience upon which the world’s future depends. When he breathed upon his disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, he imparted to them the power to let go, an internal freedom against which no outward form of liberty or permission can compare.

Jesus’ gospel centered on the act and realization of forgiveness, of living in such a way that all resentment, grudge-bearing, lingering disappointment, and other fixations on the past are released and forgotten. It isn’t necessary – nor is it healthy! – to “set the record straight” and “get the balance even” before you can move on with your life. God is not holding your past against you, and neither should you be dragging it along. You have been set free, but now it is up to you to drop the chains and embrace your freedom.

This ideal of forgiveness was unlocked from the confinements of common sense and retributive justice through the personal choices that Jesus made on a daily basis, culminating in his decision and supplication with God to forgive his enemies from the cross. Right then and there, the redemptive power of forgiveness – of a love that is unconditional, unfailing, and totally gratuitous – was personified, embodied, and released into our human history. To symbolize the presence of that transforming power now at work in the world, the spirit of Jesus moved upon the dark fear of his disciples, as upon the primordial waters of Genesis, and called forth a new creation.

1 PETER 2:19-25

19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

The desire for approval coincides exactly with the ego’s most passionate pursuit: recognition. To be noticed, validated, accepted, affirmed, praised, rewarded, promoted and glorified – this is what we might call the ladder of upward mobility in ego ambition. Whether at the first rung of this ladder or the last, the primary reference of value is “me” – the self-involved ego.

The gospel of Jesus went to the key term in this motivational system, insisting that human liberation and the healing of our world are possible only as we are able to rise above and get beyond the neurotic contraction of “me” and “mine.” If he ever proclaimed a heavenly treasure for those who would give everything to the poor and follow him, it was only to get them invested in his kingdom movement. In addition to promoting restorative justice through the redistribution of wealth, their time together would give him opportunity to open their hearts and free them of the need for reward.

Jesus wasn’t on a sweeping campaign through the world, scooping up as many converts as he could on his way back to heaven. His kingdom movement was about waking people up, setting them free, and making them whole – NOW, not later on or somewhere else.

But sadly this is the direction Christianity went. As an institutional religion under the “Christian” banner, the irony is that the farther it went along, the more unlike Jesus it became. Condemning the world that Jesus loved and separating itself from the people that Jesus sought, the Church turned out to be his greatest adversary. Keeping pure by staying inside, pleasing God by being obedient, waiting for Jesus to come again: Only a few have seen through this trance as the Church’s business plan, not the original gospel of Jesus.