God's Love Restores
Introduction/Seeing the Need
Introduction/Seeing the Need
When distance grows between us and God, how do we repair that relationship? What does it take for us to notice how far we have wandered away from God?
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?
The people of Israel felt disgraced because the locusts were a sign from God that they had been disobedient. They felt as ashamed as a child punished in front of a classroom of peers. Prophets such as Amos and Micah warned of disasters that would come as punishments for a disobedient nation. Joel stood in this tradition. While he did not list specific sins that may have caused the destructive locusts to come, he did imply that the people’s suffering was a punishment, a direct result of their disobedience.
At times, we may feel embarrassed by our misfortune because it is obvious that it arose from our own bad behavior in some way. Many times, however, we may feel embarrassed by our misfortune even though what happened is not our fault or is, in any case, a punishment that far outweighs our “crime.” This feeling of having been disgraced can isolate us from others in our community and even from God.
Sometimes people turn away from God in a time of crisis. Could it be that they feel they do not deserve God’s love or help, are they afraid of drawing God’s attention, or do they suppose that maybe God is not there for them anymore? Is misfortune a sign that God is displeased with us?
Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people. In response to his people the Lord said: I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a mockery among the nations. I will remove the northern army far from you, and drive it into a parched and desolate land, its front into the eastern sea, and its rear into the western sea; its stench and foul smell will rise up. Surely he has done great things!
The locusts had eaten the grain offerings right out of the Temple! How could God have let this happen? Were the locusts more powerful than God? Where was God? Maybe there was no God? The people of God were beyond distressed.
When terrible things happen, it may feel like God is nowhere to be found. We may feel abandoned by the God who felt so near to us at other times. We may find ourselves doubting whether God ever existed.
The prophet Joel assured the people that they were still loved, that God loved them and would provide for them. God had pity on them, Joel said, and would perform signs to demonstrate that he was still with them and had not abandoned them.
Sometimes we need this reminder, too. Sometimes we need someone else to have faith in God’s love for us when we are having trouble believing in it ourselves. God’s compassion can reach us through others as our sisters and brothers in Christ lovingly tend to our needs.
Joel reminds us that even when things are at their worst, God is trustworthy and ever-present. No matter what happens to us, Joel says, we can be assured that God’s love is steadfast. God will be there for us when we return.
Are there times when it has been particularly difficult to believe that God loves you?
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
No matter what happens any shift in our lives is an opportunity to turn to God. Taking advantage of this opportunity requires keeping the lines of communication open. Sharing our thoughts and feelings with God is important, but it can be painful. We might try to escape from our suffering in many different ways. Some of these escapes can harm us or other people.
We cannot begin to repair a relationship until we notice that it needs repairing. Whatever it is that causes us to notice a gap in our relationship with God- whether it is a disaster or not - that noticing is an opportunity. Simply seeing that we want our relationship with God to be different is a gift, a chance to come closer to the God who loves us so much.
How has your relationship with God changed over time? Can you identify particular events in your life that provided occasions for turning points?
Reliable God, you have told us that you will always be with us. This is so difficult for us to understand. Sometimes it seems that nothing much important is happening, and it is easy to forget you are there. Other times it is almost impossible to believe you are with us. Are you here and loving when terrible things happen to us? Even when we don’t understand you, God, help us to keep talking to you. Help us to keep believing that you love us and will care for us, no matter what happens; in Jesus’ name. Amen.