“Father forgive them–they don’t know what they’re doing.”
That’s what He said while hanging on the cross.
He didn’t say this but’s it’s written all over the Old & New Testament and comes to its fullest expression on the cross: “Do I look like I want you to grovel and crawl to get forgiveness? Do I look like I find it hard to love you? If I give you Myself how can you doubt that I would GLADLY give you everything else?” (Rom 8:32)
Listen, losers lose in spite of what God wants for them! If Ezekiel 18:23 and 32 mean anything at all, they mean God feels awful pain when losers lose. Love involves a desire to see righteousness lived out, but if we think God is a “heavenly hit man” who enjoys His work, we haven’t begun to know him! (Note Jesus’ fearful remark to very religious people–—preachers in particular. John 8:54-55!)
Matthew 23 is one of the most scathing pieces in literature, but it doesn’t end with: “Woe … hypocrites … sons of hell!” It ends with a heartbroken Christ saying He felt like a mother hen in panic, desperately wanting to hide her chicks under her wings because danger is near.
Luke 15 makes it very clear that when sinners lose, God loses too. No shepherd sought a lost sheep more fervently than God pursues lost people! No finder is more thrilled as he joyously walks home with a lamb on his shoulders than God is when he holds a former wanderer close to his heart (out of which the wanderer had never wandered however far he had wandered).
The God who has uniquely revealed Himself in Jesus Christ is for us (Romans 8:31). If He came at all, He came to do us good! If He came to serve, He came to serve the selfish, for that’s what we are. If He came to die along with us and for us. He came to die for destroyers of life, for that’s what we are. If He came to offer friendship and reconciliation, He came to offer it to treacherous people, for that’s what we are.
We’re going to have to make up our minds to this, God thinks us precious. He thinks it worthwhile to redeem us at awful cost. In Romans 5:6-10 we’re assured that He died for the weak and ungodly (v. 6), for the sinner (v. 8) and for the enemy (v. 10). And can God who so loved us, rejoice when we eternally lose?
We read of a father who’s worth millions and lives in the lap of luxury. His boy is wayward and far from home. The father is fragmented, lonely, and he lives oblivious to all his vast wealth. That doesn’t surprise us, does it? We know of a mother who is honored by the community, the state, maybe even the nation. Her daughter lives in shameful rebellion in some squalid hut, away from the mother who adores her. Does it surprise us that the mother finds no lasting joy in the recognition she receives? She’d gladly swap it all for the love and blessing of her foolish daughter. That isn’t hard for us to believe! We know of friends, brothers, sisters who gladly give themselves one for another, who compete, it appears, to outdo one another in expressions of genuine love and affection. We see all this, and because we believe it, we are warmed and moved by it.
We can believe that sinners can give their children bread rather than stones; we can accept fully that a father can give his son fish rather than a serpent–but we find it hard to believe God can outdo sinners in his love for his creation! How tragic is that?Luke 15 says something to us, but never enough. The book of Hosea grabs us by the lapels and looks right into our eyes with its message of God’s passionate love for wicked people, urging us: “Believe it! Believe it!”
Do we think, because our love is shallow, that His is? He has already endured the final insult! He passionately sought the opportunity to embrace the ultimate insult and dishonor! Does that not tell us once and for all that God rejoices in our joy and grieves at our loss? After the cross, it isn’t fair to doubt God!
But I’m sure it’s the holiness of God, His justice, that makes many of us afraid to lean too heavily on His love toward us. And yet we’re explicitly told that God is righteous in forgiving our sins (1 John 1:9). In forgiving us God is acting like Himself! We’re expressly told that God shows himself righteous in passing over our sins and demonstrating it in the death of Christ (Rom. 3:24-26). In the death of Christ a righteous God is expressing His love to us; a love that embraces the entire human family (John 3:16-17). His love isn’t immoral, it isn’t unrighteous. His love doesn’t despise righteousness. But His righteousness doesn’t get in the way of his loving us! It never did! The cross didn’t enable God to love us—it demonstrated it! Whatever theory of the atonement you subscribe to, it’s still true that in Christ, God loves us!
We permit our sins to separate us from God even when He assures us that it has been dealt with in Christ Jesus. Many of us live, never free from the notion that God is always on edge, becoming more and more irritable with us. We glance around fearing a smashing blow from his huge fist because we’ve wronged Him again. We see what we take to be His act of discipline as proof of His lovelessness rather than what He has expressly told us it is (Rev. 3:19) if indeed He did chastise us—it is an expressions of His love toward us. And when we reject Him with finality and insist on losing, we feel we’re getting what God wanted us to have all along and we feel, since we are now utterly lost, God is content. The truth is, when we reject God he feels again the throb in His hands and feet and head and weeps.
God loses when we lose because God loves losers!