A BEAUTIFUL ABODE
For a long time, almost nobody believed God was someone with whom you’d want to snuggle. If seeing his face could kill you (Exodus 33:20), just imagine what lounging on the couch with God would do! And yet, so much of our faith — and the Bible! — is fueled by this idea of a close and intimate God. What might that mean, and what does it look like? Let’s talk about it…
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the vine and we are the branches. Guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will we might truly discover joy and peace. Amen.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
“Abide with Me” — Henry F. Lyte (lyrics) and William H. Monk (music); Performed by Audrey Assad (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Maybe my favorite word in Hebrew is the word chesed. It means “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love,” as in Psalm 36: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” According to the Jewish Talmud, the Hebrew Bible begins with chesed and ends with chesed. It’s lovingkindness through and through.
When Jesus tells his disciples in John 15 to “abide in me as I abide in you,” I think he’s got chesed in mind. That’s because there’s a lot more to lovingkindness than being kind to one another. When someone is hurting, sick, or in other ways in need, it’s good to send them a card. But, to truly show chesed is to do more than that. It’s to show up. It’s to be present, even when we don’t feel like it. Chesed says, “That’s okay. You don’t have to feel like it. You’ve still got to do it, though.”
It would be really easy to end right there, with a finger wagging at all of us. Who among us can honestly say we’ve always shown up even when we didn’t feel like it? I know I certainly can’t.
But, what if we look at this from a different angle — from the angle of God’s lovingkindness instead of ours? After all, so much of John 15 is about how Jesus is abiding in us. “Abide in me as I abide in you…Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” It reminds me of 1 John 4:19, “We love because God first loved us.” Have you ever wondered what goes through God’s head when we need him to abide in us? Have you ever wondered if he just isn’t feeling it some days?
Maybe that sounds a bit too human to be God, but consider Exodus 32:7-14, when God becomes so angry at the people of Israel for worshiping a golden calf that he threatens to destroy them and start over again. Moses didn’t think that was quite in the character of God’s chesed, though. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” Moses’ plea works. God literally changes his mind. “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” God certainly wasn’t in the mood to show up for his people that day, but he decides to anyway.
Jesus was in no mood either in the Garden of Gethsemane, kneeling in his own blood, sweat, and tears. With death a foregone conclusion, he sounds about as human as you can get: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). And yet, he pushes through — thanks, we hear, to the chesed of God that gives him strength.
To me, these stories don’t show a moody or weak God, as they have to some folks in the past. They show a relatable God. They show a God who’s going to abide with us even when he doesn’t really feel like it. They show a God who is so committed to lovingkindness that, even on his worst of days, he commits to showing up.
And if that’s not a beautiful thought, I don’t know what is.
Mercifully present God, abide with us. Don’t ever leave us, and let us not leave you. Amen.
*If you’re interested in the concept of chesed in the Jewish tradition as noted above, check out this episode of The Happiness Lab podcast.