A Long and Tortuous History

Currently I am wading my way through Carson’s tome, The Gagging of God. It is a testing read at times as Carson scans the (then) contemporary religious pluralism scene, poking and prodding at its assertions and exposing faults and errors. The range and volume of both academic and popular writings from this field that Carson has a handle on is truly impressive. However, even in amongst this academic rigor, a pastor’s heart shines through from time to time. The following passage is one such example:

What the Bible says about the love of God cannot adequately be studied by focusing on merely one or two word groups…It turns no less on the entire biblical storyline. The God who made us and could have written us off, chose instead to pursue rebellious men and women across a long and tortuous history – men and women who often show they are fickle and prefer to think of themselves as the center of all things, and who find idols more congenial than knowledge of the living God. (pg. 239)

The phrase which struck me when reading this was ‘The God who made us and toward hopecould have written us off, chose instead to pursue rebellious men and women across a long and tortuous history’. It is truly incredible to consider God’s redemptive love expressed to a rebellious people over a long and tortuous history. And as I meditated on this incredible thought I considered it’s execution on three planes of history.

Biblical History

I do not wish to separate biblical history from what others may term ‘real history’. Rather, I am seeking to put a bracket around a particular period of history. Within the canon of Scripture we do find a contained history – from the creation of the world to the creation of the church, with an appendix which promises and looks forward to a new creation. Indeed, Carson proceeds to acknowledge God’s pursuit of rebellious men and women on this plane of history:

God’s love is demonstrated in his dealings with Adam and Eve after the fall, in his call and protection of Abraham, in his preservation of this fledgling people of God in a world of polytheism, dubious security, moral failure, and even famine. The establishment of the covenant with Israel is the result of God’s invasive, intervening love; the gift of his Son is the supreme result of that same love. (pg. 239)

Whenever we take even the shortest of time-spans for biblical history, for example Nehemiah 9, we still have a God which in love has pursued his people for thousands of years.

World History

This can then be broadened to consider world history. In this I mean the history of all nations, peoples and tribes, from their beginning until the present day. Whenever we begin to consider world history in this way we continue to see God’s love in the pursuit of his people.

While I cannot rehearse anything close to a substantial history of the world here, what is possible is the noting of God’s pursuit seen in significant developments. Throughout world history we have seen the growth of the visible church; the sending of (millions of?) missionaries to all over the globe; the protection of Christianity through men such as Luther and Calvin, and groups such as the Puritans.

I wish to express some hesitancy about making proclamations about modern individuals and groups, because their impact is yet to be assessed. However, surely God’s pursuit of his people is seen also in the gift of men like Don Carson and John Piper to the church; groupings such as The Gospel Coalition, Nine Marks, Together for the Gospel, Desiring God, 20schemes; the vast array of Bible Colleges, seminaries and training schemes available. If these have anything close to the legacy of the reformers, Puritans and missionaries of previous eras then certainly they have been another expression of God’s relentless love for a disobedient people.

In addition to the above mentioned there are also ‘secular’ individuals and events which could rightly be understood to be part of God’s love for his people over a long a tortuous history right up to the present day. Through all of the visible things we view in world history the Bible teaches that God’s hand is at work in it all for his glory (See the books of Ruth and Esther for examples of this).

Personal History

These two planes of a long and tortuous history then lead to this final plane – personal history.

While none of us have been alive for thousands of years, plenty of us have a long and tortuous history whenever it comes to God’s love for us. We know ourselves to be fickle, often preferring to place ourselves at the centre of life and finding mediocre and passing joy in idols. And all of this since God’s saving of our souls, bodies and minds.

Each of us know that on a daily basis we dismiss God’s will for our lives, we ignore Christ’s love, we neglect a life worthy of our calling and we turn our backs on God – a God who has pursued us, continues to pursue us and promises to pursue us evermore. This is a long and tortuous history and yet God chooses to pursue rebellious men and women like us.

This is a glorious thought which should both rebuke us for our small thoughts about God, and yet comfort us in the reality of his relentless love. Not many of us, I would suggest, would pursue a rebellious spouse for more than a matter of months, or perhaps even years. But God is not like us, and so he delights in pursuing us for each individual day of our own personal lives, which over history translates into the pursuit of his church over thousands of years. Therefore,

What the Bible says about the love of God cannot adequately be studied by focusing on merely one or two word groups…It turns no less on the entire biblical storyline. The God who made us and could have written us off, chose instead to pursue rebellious men and women across a long and tortuous history – men and women who often show they are fickle and prefer to think of themselves as the center of all things, and who find idols more congenial than knowledge of the living God. God’s love is demonstrated in his dealings with Adam and Eve after the fall, in his call and protection of Abraham, in his preservation of this fledgling people of God in a world of polytheism, dubious security, moral failure, and even famine. The establishment of the covenant with Israel is the result of God’s invasive, intervening love; the gift of his Son is the supreme result of that same love. (pg. 239)

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