I think sometimes that God is, to use modern parlance, difficult to get your arms around.
I have almost completed a small group study based on reading the entire Bible. I may have read the Bible before in bits and pieces. I think I’ve even read it before in one extended sitting. I did this when I was younger, and I’ve never done it as a part of a small group.
And, as I say, after engaging in this study, for me, God is difficult to get one’s arms around. In the Old Testament, he often seems vengeful. He punishes Israel with a degree of harshness that seems, well, below what an all-loving God would do. Despite what seems to be a penchant for punishment, though, he returns, over and over again, to his chosen people just as he asks them to return to him. His love for them is astonishing at times, particularly in light of their frequent rejection of him.
In the New Testament, there is much more about God’s love, culminating in the sacrifice of his Son for our sins. While the New Testament isn’t free of scripture about punishment, it speaks largely about our salvation through God’s grace. Reading about God in the whole of Holy Scripture can give one a case of whiplash.
In Psalm 11:5, we read: “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” Similarly, in Psalm 145:20, it is written: “The Lord watches over all who love him. But all the wicked he will destroy.”
In Luke 6:32-36, there is the familiar passage of scripture about loving our enemies, which includes some practical ways we can show our love to them, like doing good to them and lending to them. We may overlook, however, verses 35-36: “Then [when you love your enemies], your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
So Psalms or Luke or something else?
I know full well my ways are not God’s ways, and my thoughts are not his thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8) And you may disagree with me when I say I have trouble getting my arms around God at times. But I hope you can at least understand why I might say that.
What I also say and know by faith is that God has no trouble getting his arms around me.
In Deuteronomy 33:27, there is this wonderful assurance: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Thanks be to God!