The Word Among Us

Jan/Feb 2013 Issue

Earnest Faith, Joyful Pursuit

Keys to Receiving God’s Covenant Love

Earnest Faith, Joyful Pursuit: Keys to Receiving God’s Covenant Love

What do you think God is like? Is he a sort of heavenly traffic cop, always trying to trap us as we speed toward sin?

Is he a disinterested judge who weighs all our good deeds and bad deeds to determine our fate? Or is he a sentimental old man, like a kindly grandfather, whose only goal is to see us all get along and be nice to each other?

All of these views, and many others like them, are shortsighted. Yes, our God is kindly and gentle, but he is also just and passionate. Yes, he is always watching us and trying to keep us from sin, but he is not trying to trap us or looking to punish us. And yes, God pursues us, but not as a policeman pursues a criminal. Rather, he pursues us out of love. He is relentless, but it is a relentlessness born of mercy and compassion, not of anger or spite. It’s the relentlessness of a God who longs for his people to be united with him in an unbreakable bond of covenant love.

Yes, our Father pursues us because he loves us. He never gives up hope because he loves us. The more we grasp this love, the more we will find ourselves pursuing him in response—seeking him out and striving to live out the covenant he has made with us.

Everything Made Known. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Everything that the Father has is mine.” He then went on to tell them that the Holy Spirit would take all that was his and “declare it to you” (John 16:15). Indeed, this is the Holy Spirit’s main job description: to reveal to us “everything” that God wants to give us. His job is to convince us that our Father has good gifts, unending grace, and an infinite supply of love all stored up for us.

So what kinds of things make up this “everything”? One of the most important is the Spirit’s desire to unveil the mysteries of God to us: his holiness, his perfection, his justice, and so much more. Another is the Spirit’s desire to tell us just how deeply God loves us. No matter what we think of ourselves, our Father looks upon us with compassion, love, and tenderness. Yet another is the Spirit’s desire to pour divine grace on his people, enabling them to live a new life of hope, purity, and confidence. In short, “everything” includes all that we need to have a relationship with God and to further the mission of the Church.

God Pursues Us. We have seen that the Bible stories about God’s covenants reveal just how committed to us he is. They tell us that from age to age, through covenant after covenant, God pursued his people Israel until the time came for his Son to come and inaugurate a new covenant with all people.

The simple truth is that God will never abandon us. In fact, it seems at times that he doubles his efforts to pursue us when we wander from him. This is vividly portrayed in the Old Testament story of Hosea, a man who lived in Israel around the eighth century before Christ. Hosea is probably best known because of his wife’s unfaithfulness to him. But as much as her adultery must have hurt Hosea, God told him to stay faithful to her. He even told him to forgive her, to woo her back to himself, and to renew his marriage vows to her. Then God told Hosea that this is how much he loves Israel. Even though his people “prostituted” themselves by following other gods, he would continue to pursue them. He would continue to love them. He would forgive them and take them back to him, no matter how deeply their sins hurt him!

Of course, the ultimate display of God’s pursuit of his people came when he sent his only Son to die for our sins. Through Jesus, he reached out to us and began a whole new covenant that does nothing less than bring us right before his heavenly throne!

Faith Pursues God. Now no matter how persistently God searches for us, no matter how much he wants to find us, he is not the only actor in this drama. We have to be willing to seek him as well. God loves us so much that he honors our free will, even when we use it to turn away from him. Think about the prodigal son. His father desperately wanted him to come home. He looked for him day after day. But he had to wait for his boy to “come to his senses” and begin the journey home (Luke 15:17).

The “everything” that God wants to give us doesn’t come by magic or osmosis or luck. It comes through faith. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, God rewards “those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Similarly, St. Paul prayed for the Ephesians “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17).

These two passages are not talking about passive faith. They are not talking about the kind of faith that is content just to go to Mass once a week and not seek the Lord anywhere else. No, they are talking about a faith that pursues God with persistence and dedication.

Faith that pursues dares to believe in miracles. It expects God to work in the world. It believes that God will bless our efforts to further the mission of the Church—however feeble they may seem to us. Faith that pursues moves us to dream big dreams about what God can do in the hearts of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

Lord, I Believe! Over and over, we see what happens when we pursue the Lord through active, trusting faith. Think, for instance, of the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him down through the roof of a house just so that he could meet Jesus (Mark 2:1-5). Think about the woman who pressed through the crowd just to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment (5:25-29). Think about the Roman centurion who believed that Jesus could heal his servant with just one word (Matthew 8:5-10). And finally, think about the “sinful woman” whose faith moved her to break into a formal dinner party just so that she could show Jesus how much she had come to love him (Luke 7:36-50).

If there is anything worthwhile to remember from this article it is this: earnest, persistent faith brings us in touch with God’s grace and his power. May we always be a people who believe earnestly! May we also be a people who believe persistently! And when we feel our faith waning or when we find ourselves doubting, may we humbly cry out to the Lord: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Faith is the key to unlocking all the richness and blessings of the covenant: faith that he is a good God who loves us; faith that we can trust him with our lives; faith that he will never turn his back on us; faith that he will forgive us; faith that his deepest desire is to help us in every possible way to make his ways our ways.

In Pursuit of Covenant Love. Our God is a God of covenant love. He is not a stern judge or an overzealous policeman or a sentimental old uncle. He is a passionate God who will pursue us day after day, urging us to embrace him and the covenant he has made with us. If we want to experience his love—if we want to know the blessings of our covenant—we need to pursue him as well. We can take confidence, too, that our pursuit won’t be in vain. We can remember that Jesus told us that if we ask, we will receive; if we seek, we will find; and if we knock, he will open the door for us (Matthew 7:7).

You don’t need a degree in theology to pursue God. You don’t need to be a saint to pursue God. Scripture tells us that simple, everyday people pursued the Lord in faith, and they found him. Zacchaeus, the SyroPhoenician woman, and the blind Bartimaeus: they all believed. They all pursued. And they all were richly rewarded.

Faith that pursues God is like the young man who will do anything to win the girl of his dreams. Faith that pursues God is like the mother who is willing to do anything to protect her children and provide for their needs. Faith that pursues God is like the athlete who is willing to train for hours at a time just in order to win the race. This kind of faith comes from a humble heart and a determination to do anything to have more of Jesus in our lives.

May we all pursue the Lord with earnest, persistent faith.