For the last month or so in my personal Bible study, I’ve been working my way through Judges and 1 Samuel. I’m gonna be perfectly honest here, it isn’t all that fun. A lot of times I’ve explored these books separately or in little chunks as part of a broader study. But camping out and chewing away at this period of time has been a totally different experience. There’s no nice way to say it, but the time of Judges in Israel was ugly. Just ugly. In many ways, the stories start to sound like a broken record. Israel’s doing well. Israel finds a shiny new god to follow. Israel falls into chaos. Israel wonders how that could have happened and where God is. God rescues those who turn to him. Rinse and repeat.
Time and time again, Israel strays away from God and the results are always a complete disaster. Full stop. The people that God loves and claims instead choose to put their faith in worthless things and fall into heartless, thoughtless, despicable acts that leave a trail of pain and destruction throughout the pages of these books. People are turning on each other, killing one another, and selling each other out. Some run and hide when they should stand up and fight. The strong sacrifice the weak just to save their own necks. The capable get wrapped up in their own genius and lose sight of what they were called to do. There’s some great history here, yes, but it’s all overshadowed by how seedy, low, and downright nasty these times were. By the time you get to the end of Judges you just want to cover your eyes and say “Make it stop! This is a disaster! How can everything keep going so wrong!”
No wonder the Israelites keep thinking God has abandoned them. They’ve run so far away they can’t see the path back anymore. They can’t see the way back so they truly believe that it’s all too late. There is no way back. God is lost to them. Put in today’s terms, we’ve all felt that. Maybe not on the scale of an entire nation, but we’ve all felt that one mistake or choice so keenly we believe it’s over. It’s done. I’m off the path. I can’t come back. It’s not just that we think God has abandoned us in our darkest hour, we think he was right to do so. But hear this:
God does not abandon anyone in their darkest moment.
That’s just not his way. It may feel like that in the middle of everything because isn’t that the nature of darkness? It makes you feel isolated and separated from everything good and wonderful. It makes you wonder if anything will ever be ok again. It makes you think you’ve messed up so badly you can never be part of the good story again.
That never is and never will be true.
In a section of the Bible that seems harsh and devoid of love, God still shows up time and time again. Israel is given chance after chance to follow God. If I were in God’s position (and thank goodness I’m not), I probably wouldn’t have made it past about the third time Israel turned away. That third time would hit and I would feel fully justified in wiping everyone off the map and walking away muttering under my breath. But not God. No matter what they do, God keeps leaving a door open and a light on, hoping his people will come home someday.
There are consequences for what Israel does, absolutely, and some of those consequences are horrifying, but God never lets those consequences be the end of it. The same is true for us. He doesn’t laugh at the pickle you get yourself in and skip away. He doesn’t ever say, “Wow! That’s mistake number 4,399! One more and I’m out of here!”. We get ourselves in this vortex of thinking we have a redemption to-do list and that if we don’t finish it our mistakes can’t be blotted out. We place ourselves and our choices on the scale and find ourselves lacking every time. And while that’s absolutely true, the idea that our lacking results in irredeemability is not.
The only way to make yourself irredeemable is to refuse redemption.
That’s it. As long as you are running back to God, he will keep his arms wide open. Look at all the chances he gave Israel. And when they couldn’t get their act together he sent someone farther down the line in history who could. He didn’t make that plan just for Israel but made it for you too. The you that didn’t know him and screwed up. The you that did know him and screwed up anyway. The you that made a horrible mistake fifteen years ago. The you that made a horrible mistake yesterday. He sees every failure and never abandons you.
God never gives up on those he loves.
There will be nasty, seedy, unpleasant chapters in our lives. Chapters that haunt us and make us feel unforgivable, but when that darkness attempts to shout you down, you have the full ability to remind it what you’ve chosen. If you’ve chosen redemption, it’s over. It’s covered. You’re safe. You’re not lost. God didn’t give up on you then and he won’t give up on you now.
Let’s find some joy,