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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Oh how He loves us!"

"He is jealous for me.
 Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
 bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy..."

I have the honor and privilege of regularly meeting on Skype with my Iranian friends to help teach them English. During the video chat, we read my books together and I am able to assist them in the correct pronunciation of words. We have a great time together. My friends will share with me the latest happenings in their lives, including their fears and frustrations of living under the oppression of the Islamic Regime.
Just recently, my dear friend who lives in Mashhad (her name withheld for security reasons) told me a very sad story of her early childhood in Iran. Women are required to wear a hijab whenever they go out publicly. The Ghaste Ershad (morality police) daily patrol the streets of Iran looking for violators of the Islamic dress code. If a woman is not wearing her hijab correctly, or is showing too much skin and has too much make up on, she can be both fined and arrested.
My Iranian friend recalled a time in school as a child when the teacher warned her class that if a woman does not cover her head, that in the judgment, Allah would dangle her by the hair over the fires of hell!
The themes of fear, judgment, vengeance, are the constant themes I hear from my friends in Iran. They painfully describe to me how they were taught about who God is. I seldom ever hear them describe God as being loving and merciful.
Iranians are subjected to a distorted picture about who God is. When looking through the Quran, the theme of God's unconditional love for mankind is never found. Instead the Quran teaches that, "Allah loves not the transgressor," (Surah 2:190), that "Allah loveth not those who do wrong,"(Surah 3:57)
The reader is further informed that Allah loveth only those who do good deeds, "And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah and make not your own hands contribute to destruction, but do good, for Allah loveth those who do good," (Surah 2:195)
The conclusion is that Allah does not love the wayward sinner, but that He only loves those who consistently do good. His love is conditional, based on the person who keeps himself pure and clean and does what is right.
However when one reads the Bible, a completely different picture of who God is clearly emerges. The distorted picture of His character dissolves in the theme of His unconditional love.
From Genesis to Revelation, the reader is painted a picture of God who pursues His sinful covenant people with irresistible love. Instead of punishing and forsaking those who have broken His holy law, God reaches out to them with His arms of love and mercy.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love," (Jeremiah 31:3) is the cry from God's heart to His covenant people. His love is undeserved and freely given to a people who deserves judgment but instead receive His mercy!
In the New testament, the picture of God's love is made abundantly clear through Jesus. Jesus treated sinners with compassion and mercy. He once told the story of a man who owned a hundred sheep and when he discovered one of them missing, he searched the wilderness until he found the lost sheep. Once the lost sheep was found, Jesus said that the man joyfully carried the sheep back home on his shoulders. Then the man encouraged his neighbors to rejoice with him because he had found the lost sheep.
Jesus went on to explain that, "In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than the ninety others who have not strayed away!" (Luke 15:7)
The picture that Jesus painted of God's love is vastly different than the one painted by the Quran. God pursues the lost sheep with His irresistible love and then heaven throws a party when the sheep is finally found!
In direct contrast to the Quran's teaching that Allah does not love the transgressor, the Bible instead emphasizes God's unconditional and undeserved love. "But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners..(Romans 5:8)
God loves the sinner! This is the constant theme of the Bible. Instead of the distorted picture of a God of hatred and vengeance, the Bible paints a beautiful portrait of a God who never gives up on His people, who never forsakes them, but is constantly crying out for them to return to His mercy.
After I explained to my Iranian friend these wonderful Biblical truths about who God is, she agreed that this is the picture that she has always had of God, a picture of love and kindness.
"Oh how He loves us!" Knowing the unconditional love of God has transformed my life. Whenever I fail God and do things that dishonor Him, I cry out for His mercy and remember the beautiful lyrics to this powerful song by Jesus Culture, "Oh how He loves us."
If you
 have a distorted picture of who God is, pick up the Bible and read these Scriptures and allow His Holy Word to paint the real picture of who He is!