I am in a young families Bible class at my church, and recently we have been bringing in more seasoned (i.e., older) couples to learn wisdom from their stories. A couple of weeks ago we had a couple come that is very dear to my heart. They said a lot of good things, but there is one thing that I will never forget, that packed a theological punch disguised in the soft loving tone of a mother.
As the couple described their joyous years of marriage, they shared of some difficult times in raising teenagers. I’m sure many of you have felt that pain before. As this sweet mother described dealing with a rebellious teenage boy, she commented that there was nothing this boy could ever do to lose the loving pursuit of his mother. There was no place he could go, and no thing that he could do to lose his mother’s love. And then she said this; “I was the mother that probably would’ve brought cookies to jail.”
I’m convinced that the overriding characteristic of God that the Bible professes is a God who is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. I think this little song of Exodus 34:6-7 is the lens through which Israel sees God in all situations. It is why in the middle of a lamenting text during a period of exile the author will say, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases”. It is why I believe the apostle Paul can say that he is convinced that there is nothing in all the earth that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. So when I see a loving mother who says she would take cookies to her son in jail if that is what it came to, I think I see God.
I don’t mean this in a soft sort of way. That is to say, I don’t mean to say that God doesn’t take seriously evil and wickedness. I think God judges evil, and I believe God ultimately will set these things right. The Bible attests to that. Even in Israel’s love song from Exodus we see that God punishes sin. However, sometimes I think we need to rescue a loving God from the hands of angry sinners. So yes, God punishes sin and deals with evil. That is a warning we need to take seriously and align our lives in light of that fact. But, I don’t think the punishment of sin is the defining character trait of God. After all, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. No height, depth, no rulers or powers. Not even death itself.
Maybe when we see a mother who would pursue her son to the point of bringing cookies to jail, maybe we need to look deeper and see that looks more like the God of the Bible than we’ve thought.