“Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul.”

   -St. Augustine

I remember when I was little and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would almost always tell them that I wanted to be a scientist even at the young age of 6. I loved science. For many birthdays my favorite presents were the array of scientific encyclopedias my friends and family would give me (#embraceyourinnernerd). I would not only look at the beautiful pictures but I would study these encyclopedias like textbooks. This love for science grew into a love for learning about everything I could. Even through my adolescent years, the joy that I would receive when I would read a science book or continually reread the same National Geographic magazine became the anchor that got me through some difficult times in my life.

Now one might expect the church and God to be a future theologue’s anchor in his childhood. But throughout much of my life I felt pushed away by the church and rejected by God. The only thing that seemed to get me through some tough times, was the unconditional and unwavering love of my parents and the safety I found in drowning myself in the study of science.

In a previous post (Entering the Mind of a Theology Student) I briefly discussed how a trip to Ghana, West Africa and an encounter with some of the most God fearing, people loving and all around beautiful Dogombe tribe members revealed to me a love that I had no capacity to understand. God used these people to change my life and take me from one path that I chose, following my own passion for science, to a path that God chose for me, the path of theology. However, before I could accomplish what God wanted me to do, God needed to open the eyes of my soul so I could see what He saw. My spirit needed to change.

During my time in college, I read many books by many different, God-fearing, theologians. However, one of the most influential writers in my life was not a Christian theologian but a Jewish scholar by the name of Abraham Joshua Heschel. In a class that focused on the prophets in the Bible, people like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah, my professor asked his class to read a book unsurprisingly entitled The Prophets by Abraham Joshua Heschel. I started reading the book thinking that it was just a summary of the prophet’s lives and teachings (a typical theology textbook). Yet, this book was so much more, Heschel discusses, the emotion and character of God, the reasons for His harsh judgment and topics such as chastisement, justice, apathy and religion. Heschel dives into the depths of the writings of the prophets and not only brings them to life but brings the heart of God closer to the reader. When I started reading this book, I had no idea that an old Jewish scholar would reignite my Christian spirit.

In Heschel’s chapter called Second Isaiah, (If you’d like to learn more about Second Isaiah, click the link below this article) Heschel, discusses the love God expresses for Israel:

“Sins affect His attitude temporarily; they cannot alter His relationship radically. God’s love for Israel is eternal. Is it conceivable that sin, the work of man, should destroy what is intimately divine and eternal?…

Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you… For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid My face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed But My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”[1]*

I loved this quote. I loved how Heschel combined those scriptures to show the depth of God’s love that He had for His people. My professor discussed this quote with the class and pointed out a very important aspect found within it. In this quote Heschel uses the words “steadfast love.” In Hebrew, these two words form one word, חֶסֶד (hesed). This is a very important word in Judaism and, unfortunately, it does not receive the same recognition in Christianity. Some Bible translations translate this word as “mercy,” “enduring love,” “steadfast love,” and even “faithfulness.” The diversity of translations on this word reveal its complexity. The reason there are several different translations is because it does not have an equivalent English word. However, I once had a professor give me a definition of this word that I will never forget. He said, “חֶסֶד means a covenantal faithfulness beyond the call of duty.” So for God to say that His “steadfast love” will not depart, He is really saying that there is nothing, no matter what you think, say or do, that can keep Him from being faithful to His covenant with His people. The moment I understood this was the moment my life was truly changed.

Though this scripture was written to the people of Israel, we, as Christians, are included into His people. He loves us. God loves His people so much that He sent His son to be sacrificed for our own failures. And even after the debt was paid, God continued to show His people His faithfulness by sending His Spirit to indwell in us. Not only does God love His people enough to sacrifice His son, but He was faithful beyond the call of duty and sent us His Spirit. I once heard a pastor explain it this way: “We are indwelled by His Spirit, sealed by His Spirit, and we are filled by His Spirit which means that we are God’s, we belong to God.” God sent us His Spirit as a seal of His ownership of us. We are greatly and unconditionally loved.

Throughout my life there have been times that I was hurt by the people of God, rejected, ignored, etc. Unfortunately, the Church is not perfect because it is filled with imperfect beings. This is something I had to learn and forgive. However, as I was sitting in my class learning about the prophets, I truly came to a realization of how much I simply do not and cannot understand the love, the dedication, and the covenantal faithfulness that God has for His people and that God has for me. It took the readings of a Jewish scholar and the teachings of a Hebrew professor to help me understand why I was following the path that God had set out for me. God has called me to devote my life to the study of Him and His word and to help others understand who He is and how much He loves them. If my calling is to embrace the spirit of a theologian, I needed to embrace the true spirit of a follower of Christ. Studying theology led me to a point at which I could be anchored in the love and the Spirit of God.

Link for Second Isaiah: http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org/resources/introductions-to-the-books-of-the-bible/isaiah/

[1] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1962), 195.

* This is a combination of Isaiah 43:4; 54:7-8; 49:15; 54:10.

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