Have you ever watched one of those little video clips where someone finds a creature in peril? Like a fox with his leg trapped, a raccoon with a jar stuck on his head or a bird of prey hopelessly tangled in string?
Since I live on a farm, I have mixed feelings when I see these videos. I am torn between thoughts of pity with a desire to rescue and thoughts that those are predators that kill my animals and when caught in the act of killing, we shoot them. I wonder why I want to help them when I see the videos, but in many other situations I would likely perform the very opposite task. As I pondered what I would actually do if I came across one of these creatures in dire need, I knew what I would do—I would rescue it.
Why would I be compelled to rescue it when the very next day I may do just the opposite to the same creature? Because it is helpless, needy, and without rescue would likely die. Something is stirred up deep inside—pity, mercy, empathy, rescue.
This reminds me of something I read in one of my new favorite books, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund. It was from the chapter entitled, “What Our Sins Evoke.” There Ortlund addresses the heart of Christ in his response to us as believers in our sin; Christ is not indifferent to us in our state of misery and mess. Here’s what the author writes of Christ:
His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort. Again, we must bear in mind the all-crucial distinction between those not in Christ and those in Christ. For those who do not belong to him, sins evoke holy wrath. How could a morally serious God respond otherwise? But to those who do belong to Him, sins evoke holy longing, holy love, holy tenderness. In the key text on divine holiness (Isaiah 6:1-8), that holiness (6:3) flows naturally and immediately into forgiveness and mercy (6:7).Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly
I don’t know about you, but when I am face to face with my own sin, when I see the reality of my pride and selfishness, when the mirror of God’s Word reveals the ugliness of my heart, I don’t naturally think that God wants me. I think He’s weary of me doing the same things over and over. I think He’s repelled by my sin and the state of my heart. He isn’t drawn to me. He wants me to go away.
I think He views me like an acquaintance’s annoying kid—you know, the kind that constantly whines and grabs toys and breaks things—the kind you put up with because they belong to your friend—but you wouldn’t choose to be with them.
But that is NOT Christ’ heart to us.
Christ’s heart is seen in the book of Hosea where the constantly straying, harlot wife is continually sought and loved by the husband. Who does that? Christ.
Even as sinful people, we can experience a bit of this when we are drawn to our child who is hurt, struggling, or sick. When I was a public school teacher, before I had my own kids, my heart was drawn to the students who gave me the most grief. Our heart is often drawn to the miserable.
Gentle and Lowly expands on this when it quotes Thomas Goodwin’s book, The Heart of Christ:
The greater the misery is, the more is the pity when the party is beloved. Now of all miseries, sin is the greatest; and while you look at it as such, Christ will look upon it as such also. And he, loving your persons and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you…Therefore, fear not.Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ
Aaah! Did you catch that?! As his children, our sin does not push us from the heart of Christ—it draws His heart toward us! Picture that owl, hopelessly caught and tangled in string, with hands reaching forward to help give freedom. Not walking away in indifference or disgust.
And, no, it doesn’t mean that we should sin all the more so that His heart is further drawn to us. Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How are we who are dead to sin still live in it?” We must address sin in our life, because if it goes unchecked, it will bring forth the loving, parental discipline of our Father (Heb. 12:5-11).
Rather, what I am trying to address here is the attitude that many of us have, when we continue to mess up and struggle against sin, we picture a frowning Savior. We distance ourselves from Him, imagining disapproval. Or maybe we try hard to clean up our act, thinking that will make Him love us again. Or even self-injure in a futile attempt to punish ourselves and earn favor. In contrast, Romans 5:20 says, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” And Ephesians 2 tells us that God is rich in mercy and loved us with a great love while we were still dead in our sins.
Ortlund ends his chapter with this lovely truth for those of us who have received God’s salvation offered through Christ: “It is not our loveliness that wins His love. It is our unloveliness. Our hearts gasp to catch up with this. It is not how the world around us works. It is not how our own hearts work. But we bow in humble submission, letting God set the terms by which He will love us.”
So fellow child of God…do you believe it? Do you embrace it? Do you live in light of this amazing Savior who loves you so, even in your mess?