Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Greatness of God’s Love

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

God told Israel through his prophet Isaiah an impossible situation underlining God’s love to his people. Naturally, for a mother to forget her baby that is nursing at her breast is impossible. The natural tendency for a mother is to cherish, to embrace, and to caress the baby she has borne. In the same way, God cannot forget Israel, for Israel is God’s child that he regards as his precious. Even if a mother may forget the baby, God will not forget Israel. This emphasis puts the depth of God’s love at the center of God’s action toward Israel.

Let us consider the natural proceeding after a baby is born. We will not go into detail, but just discuss what is common. At the end of the pregnancy and early days after the child is born, the mother’s breasts produce colostrum. To many mothers, the production of colostrum is a surprise because colostrum doesn’t look like milk at all. Inexperienced mothers would panic if in the early days after giving birth their breast milk does not come out as they would expect. When they see a kind of thick yellowish liquid comes out of their breast instead of milk, they would wonder why and start making the wrong conclusion that their breasts don’t produce milk. Furthermore, when they find out that the thick yellowish liquid drops only a teaspoon each time, they would immediately think that the baby won’t get enough food. Not many mothers know that colostrum is in fact designed by God exactly for the newborn for their first days. Colostrum is packed with nutrition and antibody necessarily needed by the baby. The amount of the colostrum that comes out from the mother’s breasts is exactly what the newborn can take in, for newborn stomach’s capacity is very small. 1 day old baby can only take in 5-7ml, 3 day old baby can take up to 1 oz, and 5 day old baby can take up to 2 oz. By the fifth day usually the mother’s colostrum would stop coming out and is replaced by breast milk.

Many inexperienced mothers, due to the unexpected look and amount of the “breast milk” in the first days after birth, decide to abandon breastfeeding altogether thinking that their breasts can’t produce milk. So they replace breast milk with formula believing that formula can provide what’s needed by their newborn. Such decision is very unfortunate. Not only the huge different of substance between colostrum/breast milk and formula milk but also the process of breastfeeding itself provides the basis for the closeness of the mother and the baby, which formula feeding is lacking. A few mothers understand that formula milk is hard on the baby’s digestion, while colostrum and breast milk is very easy on the baby. Mothers who never experience breastfeeding would not know what they are missing. The connection that is built during the breastfeeding process cannot be replaced by anything else. Through breastfeeding, the bond previously built in the womb between the mother and child is continued in a different environment. In the womb, the baby feels the warmth of the inside of the mother’s belly, but through breastfeeding their skins touch each other and a different experience of warmth is understood. The continuity of the protection, safety, care, and love of the mother previously felt inside the womb, now is assured even if the baby is outside the womb. The life flow from the mother through the placenta is continued through the breastfeeding experience, strengthening the bond between the mother and child. Thus love is communicated, especially in the baby’s early experience of insecurity outside the womb. This experience cannot be replaced by anything else. Usually, mothers understand that newborn suffers a lot when their skin first exposed to air or other materials, their lung filled with air, and their stomach starts growling demanding food for the very first time. So, newborn needs enough sense of protection and safety, and more importantly love. So naturally, through breastfeeding, love between the mother and the child is engraved in the mother’s memory so deep that the mother can never forget her baby.

God knows this. God knows that naturally mothers cannot forget their newborn babies who are nursing at their breasts. Mothers will always have compassion to their babies they gave birth to. God’s love is greater than the love of the mother to her baby, for even though a mother may forget the baby, God will not. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God proves his love to his people by sacrificing the one he loves so much. This love of God will never be surpassed by any kind of love humans may produce.

It is easier to say that God loves us when everything goes well with us. But it won’t be so easy to say that God loves us when we suffer. In the height of the tsunami that hit Japan a few days ago, many people would question God’s love. In fact, over the centuries, God’s love has become such a hot topic that many would attack it in order to defend their doubt of God’s very existence. We all know that the greatest good is love. Consider the most famous problem of evil propositions: 1) God exists, 2) God is all-good, 3) God is all-powerful, 4) Evil exists. If we affirm the first three, then we must deny the fourth. For a good God would not allow evil to thrive and a powerful God would have no problem preventing evil in the world. However, we cannot deny the existence of evil. So either a) God is not good, which explains why he allows evil, or b) God is not powerful, which explains why God cannot stop evil, or c) God is neither good nor powerful, or d) simply that there is no God. By definition God must be good and powerful, or otherwise he is not God. So, the conclusions a, b, c lead to the conclusion d, that God doesn’t exist. When we talk about good, we all know that the greatest good is love. There is nothing greater than love in this matter. God’s love has been under attack since the beginning of time.

I’m not going to go into detail on how to refute the above philosophical argument on the problem of evil against God’s existence. But instead I would just show you that God’s love is real despite the problem of evil. We must admit that we humans are limited in our understanding of this world. And no one would bravely claim he knows all about love. Who are we to pretend that we know all about God? We cannot even pretend to know God comprehensively, how much more truly knowing him comprehensively. Job did not doubt God’s existence even though he suffered a ridiculous disaster. Jesus himself said: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The Son of God who is dearest to the heart of the Father felt abandoned by his own Father. But Jesus never doubts his Father’s existence. The thing is, we may feel like we are abandoned or not loved or suffer the most evil, but it cannot be the basis of claiming that God doesn’t exist. Consider the fact that we sometimes also feel unloved by our parents, especially when our parents punish us for our wrongdoing, but our feeling unloved cannot disprove our parents’ existence. Now, as long as we live in this broken world, evil will always be there to taunt, test, and break us piece by piece. But know that through Jesus Christ, God shares our suffering. Jesus, who is God himself suffered evil. He shares our humanity and through it he suffers with us in the face of evil. Let us not forget that we are created in the image of God, so in a way we are reflecting God when we suffer because of evil. Our reflecting God shows that we truly are God’s instrument, that we are his image. Through our tears we see the tears of God. Through our agony the world understands God’s agony. So, instead of explaining why we suffer, God shares it, said Nicholas Wolterstorff. Such is the love of God. For, when we feel sad, we won’t want our friend to explain why bad things happen, but we want our friend to sit with us and share our sadness as a prove of love. When God shares our suffering, it’s a showcase of God’s love to us.

“God is love” (1 John 4:8) says the apostle John. When we suffer, we often think that we are entitled to be saved from the suffering immediately. We think it is our right to not suffer. Especially when we think we are good people. We reject the idea that bad things also happen to good people. We tend to believe that only good things must happen to good people and bad things to bad people. One theologian, who was well known as a good person throughout his entire life, once said that while many ask the question: “Why bad things happen to good people?”, he would ask the opposite: “Why good things happen to bad people?” By his question, he was trying to educate his readers that we are essentially bad, for we are sinners. And we, despite our badness, continue to receive good things in our life. The sun never stops shining on us, the rain never tries to avoid us, oxygen is always free to inhale, etc. So, God does not stop his blessings to us regardless of our sinfulness. The theologian understood that his goodness was not good at all in the eyes of God. He understood that he was a sinner and thus a bad person. Therefore the theologian pointed out that the question raised by many was wrong. The right question is: “Why good things happen to bad people?”

God is love. God cannot not love. He will continue to love regardless. We often feel being loved when after doing a grave mistake we are forgiven. In Psalm 51, David pleads with God to forgive his sins. God reinstated David and in that way God showed his great love to David. According to the Law, David must die for his sins. But God poured out his mercy and grace on David, so David did not have to die for his sins. However, we must understand that God’s love costs him his own Son. So, David’s sins were wiped out only by the blood of Jesus Christ. This means that God’s Son must shed his blood on the cross in order for salvation to take place. Now, remember your sins and reflect on God’s embrace of you, wouldn’t you feel his warm love in your heart? God’s love is great. He does not ask anything in return. When he demands for us to come back to him, it’s not for his own sake, but for our sake, so we will live a full life in him, the very life we were designed to live in, which is the only proper life for us. God’s love goes beyond our understanding. His sacrifice for our goodness is selfless. Instead of offering the world to us, he offers himself. Instead of offering silver and gold, God offers eternal life with him. Instead of offering fame and power, he offers membership in his family. To what can we compare God’s love? Nothing… nothing….

* The Business of Christian Education XXVII

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