“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3
Pale green spikes push through ground still winter-cold.
Last fall, I purchased the bag of daffodils at the garden store. The picture on the bag promised trumpet-shaped sundrops come spring. Living in the northwest, between the Cascade and Rocky Mountain Ranges, I’ve been reminded these past twenty-one years how deeply one craves the warm life of spring after months of wintry weather. I spaded holes about my garden and plopped handfuls of the papery baubles into each one hopeful for the miracle work that happens under the snow and through the frost of winter that would eventually draw out bouquets of sunny jonquils.
So on a mid-February morning, I began the ritual search for signs of life in the garden.
And I found them. The daffodil spikes.
I know there are hostas and bleeding hearts, early risers, too, stirring yet still beneath the soil. I know in a full sixty days the garden will be green and leafing out in tender spring hues. But I know this day marks the beginning of spring for me. This is the day I smile and breathe the air of knowing another winter has come and conceded to the march of time and the inevitable change of seasons.
It is the nature of nature to consistently cycle in and out of seasons. The miracle-life within the layers of paper in the daffodil cannot do it alone: they need the months of cold, they need the warmer air and the wooing sun to draw them out of the garden grave.
This is the best way I can explain to you, dear friend, the meaning of the lovingkindness of God drawing you.
“Drawn” here does not refer to pencil and paper and plans. Rather it is the wooing invitation of a lover.
The words in Jeremiah are for you and me, but to really grasp their power, we can look at the story where they first appear, back in the old testament writings of two prophets: Jeremiah and Hosea.
Hosea lived and served as a prophet to Israel about a hundred years before Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, bore the message of repentance to the Hebrew people in Judah. God’s chosen nation had become a fractured people. Civil war split the young nation — Judah to the south, the other 11 tribes forming the norther, limping nation of Israel. It was a dark time, filled with wars and alliances and trouble. Hosea, a prophet, began to speak of repentance and restoration to Israel around 750 B.C.
An Old Testament era prophet didn’t have a nice, cozy life, a ministry team to support him in his service to the people, paid vacations and an office staff. Theirs were lonely lives, difficult lives wrought by the caustic message they declared over and again: repent. And while the promise of redemption and restoration with their God, Jehovah, was always threaded throughout the message, all the people heard was “repent, sinners, you have angered God”. Prophets were rarely heeded, sad to say.
Hosea’s ministry as prophet required that he marry a lovely , but promiscuous, girl named Gomer. Poor Hosea gave up more than financial security and popularity to be God’s messenger. Even his marriage wasn’t his own.
Gomer would repeatedly leave Hosea and prostitute herself. She left Hosea and sold herself to other men. But Hosea loved Gomer and each time bought his own wife back, brought her home, provided for her and the the children whose paternity was unknown.
The broken love story of Hosea and Gomer was used by God as a true-life parable to extend grace to his chosen people.
Gomer is not just a symbol of Israel, however, she stands as an iconic image of all of us. Just like the nation of Israel, we are trapped in a self-destructive cycle by our wrong-thinking about ourselves and God. Our misunderstanding of God’s faithfulness and his over-arching and underpinning love that surrounds us, compels us to willingly walk away from him. We allow ourselves to be owned by other things, other people, other loves that cannot ever love us like God can.
But God always pursued his chosen people, as Hosea loved Gomer, and drew her back again. “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Loverher as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…”
And he did. This is the picture of grace given to us through the ancient words of the prophet (can you hear the tenderness in the voice of God here?):
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. Hosea 11:4
This is the same message given by Jeremiah, prophet to Judah, a hundred years later:
God appeared to us in the past, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
and then, he speaks this promise and blessing to his wayward people:
I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.
Oh, Virgin Israel!
Can’t you see here how God’s lovingkindness:
cannot stop at redemption,
cannot stop at restoration,
cannot stop at full-forgiviness and healing?
His lovingkindness surpasses all of our deepest needs and declares us
totally without any blemish at all,
as if we were loyal and pure and faithful to him at all times!
God’s love (here the Hebrew word is , an intense, romantic, pursuing love) is so focused, so intensely focused and so unmovable in its purpose that regardless of the trespass or betrayal he will see us through to the day we will be fully his.
And he is committed to applying that love to draw us to him with his everlasting lovingkindness.
We, along with all humankind and the chosen people of Israel are God’s greatest preoccupation.
Can you not see it in your own life?
I can see it in mine. Like the hymn-writer says: Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…. I wander in the winter-seasons of my life, bear the barrenness alone by my own choice.
But his love is constant, his light strong and true and he draws me up and out of the soil of my experience toward himself. Only there in the light of his love do I stand tall and bloom. It is my purpose to reflect his glory, as the sunny daffodil shines back to the golden globe of sun, and I do this in the power of his lovingkindness, in the constance of his grace, in the Word that makes me whole, holy, his.
And I hear the crying of Jesus as he called out to Jerusalem from the temple steps:
Oh, Jerusalem, How I long to gather you in my arms as a hen gathers her chicks.
and his final, human words as he hung on a cross:
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
And then, the last words written in red in Matthew’s gospel, the words that ring clear and true of this indefatigable, pursuing, inexhaustible love of God for us:
And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Dear one, can you relent and yield to this relentless love?
You are his greatest preoccupation. He is obsessed with his love for you and his goal to make you wholly his, graced and purposed to reflect his glory. He will not give up on you.