God is surprising.
Which is strange, since He’s also the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I think the reason that God is so surprising to me is because a creature as flighty and unfaithful as myself cannot comprehend that kind of constancy.
At my very best – my most gracious, magnanimous, disciplined, and most faithful, I still find the persisting goodness of God INCOMPREHENSIBLE. How could anything be so unyielding? Everything bends under the right conditions: granite, titanium, diamonds.
But not God.
This is why, no matter how many times I hear it, the gospel still makes my heart beat fast. My breath still catches in my chest. I still cry all the time.
Because, really? Still?
It’s too sweet. Too much love, too much mercy – it’s too good to be true – except it’s not.
And peppered throughout scripture are two little words that that point to this astonishing constancy of God – to His, as Sally Loyd-Jones writes, never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.
These two words make me lean forward in my seat –into the story. They make me whisper, “Oh! This is the good part.”
They are the surprise I know is coming. Like the flips inside your belly when you free-fall on a roller coaster: you know it, you’ve felt it, you see it coming. But then IT IS, and it thrills you again, anew, every time.
“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” Nehemiah 9:17
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:7-8]
These words are carried through scripture, from start to finish, on the river of God’s mercy. They speak to both his immovability and to his great compassion. How improbable that those two qualities would coexist. But they do. But God. He is immovably compassionate.
“But God” means who He is and how He is is completely independent of who we are or how we are. Oh, you are a traitor? Adulterer? Murderer? Zealot? Racist? Christian-killer? BUT GOD.
God is the independent variable. You can change, tweak, and alter everything else – but not God. He is out of your league, literally. You can do or be whatever, fill-in-the-blank, but God.
“But God” means He can give grace lavishly because He gives it on His own terms. He loves us because He is loving, not because we are loveable. He loves us in spite of ourselves. I love the despite-ness of God.
Oh, we are rotten? But God.
Oh, we were dead in our sins? But God.
Oh, we are unfaithful? But God.
Oh, we deserve death? But God.
“But God’s” punctuate my own life, marks of His hand, evidence of his care. My whole existence is a series of “This happened to me, but God. This is what I feared, but God. This is where I hurt, but God. This is what I did, but God.” I can’t imagine two more hope-filled words. They are full of promise. Because, no matter what horror or chaos or evil you are surviving, “BUT GOD.”
God is supreme and above and immovable. He is gracious and merciful and lavishly loving. Nothing is impossible for Him; nothing is too hard. He makes streams in the desert; He makes ways where there are no ways.
”All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” [Ephesians 2:3-5]
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” [Genesis 50:20]
“Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.” [Acts 10:28]
“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” [Luke 18:15-16]
“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” [Psalm 73:26]
“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26]
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]
It should not surprise me, but it does.