Lord, How Have You Loved Us? (Image Vol 12, No 1 – Jan/Feb 1996)

By Matt Dabbs

By John Mark Hicks

Through the prophet Malachi the Lord proclaimed his love of Israel. Israel’s response was skeptical. “how have you loved us?” they asked (Mal. 1:2). From their perspective, the love of God was not so evident. Probably living during the time of Nehemiah, Israel was oppressed by its regional neighbors, under heavy taxation from the Persian King, and suffering through crop failures and famine. In order to survive, some were even mortgaging their lands and selling their children into slavery (Neh. 5:1-5). In the middle of all this suffering, it was difficult for Israel to see the evidence of God’s love.

Recently my mind recalled this text in Malachi after a conversation with my then six-year-old daughter Rachel. As she went to bed each evening, either my wife or I would pray with her. We would always include others who needed our prayers, especially those whom she knew were sick. During a particular stretch of time, every evening she would pray for Miss Pat and for Joshua.

Miss Pat, her Sunday school teacher at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Joshua, her brother, had been diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome.

Through surgery and chemo, Miss Pat’s cancer went into remission. Joshua’s conditions is genetic and terminal, and within a few years we expect God will take him home to share the divine dwelling place.

One evening, after we had thanked God for healing Miss Pat and prayed for Joshua, Rachel looked into my eyes with a puzzled expression on her face. “God healed Miss Pat, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“God loves Miss Pat, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he does” I answered.

Her next question shocked me, though I suppose it should not have. “Doesn’t God love Joshua too?” Her reasoning was clear,; her logic was faultless. God healed Miss Pat because he loves her, and if he loves Joshua, too, why has he not healed him? Her question was Israel’s question, “How have you, O Lord, loved Joshua?”

Her innocent, honest, question raises the most difficult conundrum we face. How do we make sense of the love of God in the midst of suffering? How do w thank God for healing one and praise God despite the fact he does not heal another? How do we continue to believe in God’s love when he does not heal our children or our siblings?

When Israel asked that same question, Malachi pointed them back to Israel’s beginnings. Israel existed as a nation out of the free, sovereign choice of God.. Israel did not create itself; God created Israel. Israel was nt a nation because they were so numerous or because they were so righteous; Israel was a nation because God loved them (Deut. 7:7-9; 9:4-6). God chose Jacob; he chose Israel because he loved Israel. The history of Israel, from the promise to Abraham through the Exodus and conquest to the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian exile, is God’s testimony of his love. Malachi’s message is that God had demonstrated his love through his faithfulness to Israel. Israel should not doubt that testimony.

Our answer to Rachel’s question must follow a similar pattern. We must remind ourselves of God’ testimony to his love. God demonstrated his love for us, even while we were his enemies, when Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). The supreme expression of God’s love – beyond any temporary healing of cancer, beyond any temporary prosperity – is that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for us (John 3:16). The supreme expression of God’s love is that he was willing to share our pain 0 the Father now knows the grief of death and the Son now knows the experience of death – and, at the same time, he was willing to redeem us from our pain. This love of God is ultimately redemptive, and it will renew us in a place where all pain is relieved and every tear is wiped away (Rev. 21:4).

When we look down and around us, our troubles overwhelm us. There is always a reason to doubt the love of God when we seek evidence of that love in our health, wealth, or prosperity – as if God’s primary concern is that we have those things. The book of Job demonstrates that God is more interested in our faith than he is in our pleasure. Health and prosperity are only temporary, for one day health will give way to sickness, and prosperity will give way to death. When we look down, the waves will convince us to doubt God’s love; but when we lift our eyes to gaze upon the Cross, we will remember how God has loved us. The Cross and empty tomb stand as the unshakable testimony of God’s love. “For,” with Paul, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).

yes, Rachel, God loves Joshua too. Jesus died for Joshua, too and even though God may not heal Joshua now, one day he will. Just like Jesus, Joshua will die one day; but just like Jesus, one day God will raise him from the dead, and we will all live together with God forever. One day God will heal everybody who trusts him. So if God heals them now, we thank him; but if he decides not to heal now,  we still praise him, because we know one day he will.”

Rachel, now eight, continues to pray for Joshua. O Lord, give me the faith of a little child.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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