Today’s Lectio Divina: Excerpts from Psalm 136. (MsgB)
Thank God! He deserves your thanks.
His love never quits.
Thank the God of all gods,
His love never quits.
Thank the Lord of all lords.
His love never quits.
Some call the Bible a love letter from God. I like that. From Genesis to Revelation, one great message of agape.
Agape…that’s New Testament Greek for unconditional, unending, unfathomable, unshakeable God-love.
Just think of it. Sixty-six books, written over a period of nearly 2,000 years, and gathered together with great care and compassion. God’s Book, given to us as a gift of great love from our Creator-King.
The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 136 obviously believed in agape (God-love). Now keep in mind that this Hebrew composer didn’t use the New Testament Greek word agape, but the Hebrew word chesed (pronounced hesed). Chesed is often defined as loving-kindness, or in the case of Psalm 136, God’s loving-kindness that just doesn’t quit.
Apparently, this Psalmist not only believed in the power of God-love, but also believed in the power of repetition as well! Modern health gurus tell us that if we truly want to break an old, unhealthy habit (i.e. overeating, compulsive spending, smoking cigarettes, etc.), we must practice replacing that bad habit with a new, healthier habit over a period of twenty-one days. Apparently the writer of Psalm 136 believed that it takes at least 26 repetitions of God-truth to work this ancient revelation of God’s never-ending love into our minds and hearts!
As I see it, this guy or gal had it right.Unconditional, unending, unfathomable, unshakeable God-love, you see, is out of this world. Not normal. Not natural to us earth-dwellers.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We human beings love the word love. But love down here on planet earth, when left to our own human strength, is always conditional. And, let’s be honest, love down here amongst us English-speaking human beings is confusing at best!
I mean how nonsensical is it when I say so easily, without weighing out the differences…
I love my wife.
I love hot dogs.
I love God.
I love my Chevy.
Sadly, the English language has left us with a watered-down word that, quite honestly, doesn’t mean too much to most people. When I love hot dogs in the same way I’m supposed to love my God, my wife and my kids, I think it’s time to call in the therapist. Marty has lost all sense of reason!
That’s why both the ancient Greeks and Hebrews used more than one word for love. The Psalmist could have used the Hebrew word ahavah in Psalm 136, but then that word would have had a completely different meaning than chesed. Ahavah has more to do with the sexual affections shown between a man and a woman while chesed, when applied to God, has much more to do with merciful, loving-kindness and deep compassion.
The Greeks took these broad definitions for love even further, utilizing four different words when attempting to describe this intriguing word. Eros referred to sexual love, philia focused on brotherly love, storge referenced natural affection like a parent has for a child, and agape was used, in the New Testament for example, only for the type of unconditional, supernatural love emanating from a divine being like the God of our Bibles.
So there you have it, my friends.
I might say to you, “I love you.”
But quite honestly, that love is, at best, only philia. It’s nice, but it’s not agape or God’s chesed.
You and I, on our good days, might really do a good job of loving others, but sadly, nothing we do in love will come close to the agape (God-love) or chesed (God-mercy) referenced in God’s Word.
That love, you see, can be taken to the bank every time. It never looses its’ value. Never expires. Never grows old or tired. Never lets you down. Never looses interest. Never dozes off for a Sunday afternoon nap. It never quits. It never takes a coffee break. It never looses its way. It never stops. It never doubts. It never stumbles. It never dies.
God-love is unconditional, unending, unfathomable, unshakeable, and just about any other un-word you can think of.
Whew. I’m out of breath. So, I guess I’ll close by giving you the wise counsel of the theologian, Fred Rogers, who, by the help of God’s love, loved everyone in his neighborhood:
I believe that at the center of the universe there dwells a loving spirit who longs for all that’s best in all of creation, a spirit who knows the great potential of each planet as well as each person, and little by little will love us into more than we ever dreamed possible. That loving spirit would rather die than give up on any one of us.
My prayer: Father God, thank You for the countless ways You love us. Chesed and agape are just the beginnings of a life-long journey in describing Your amazing love. Lord, I receive it. Jesus, I want to breathe it in. Fill me with it so that I might be able to freely give it away to others. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: While chesed and agape belong exclusively to God, in what ways might I become more fully indwelled and empowered in those gifts of love so that people see them flowing through me? How might I lay down my lesser gifts of limited human love so that God’s gift of agape and chesed loves become more evident in me and working through me?
So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Psalms?
Over a 50-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at The Psalms: God’s Songbook of Prayers. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Psalms home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.
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