A parishioner once told me that she didn’t always feel God’s love and wondered if this was normal. Although she was a person of faith, days would go by where she felt an absence of divine affection. She dutifully came to church and bible studies, engaging in her faith with as much vigor as she could muster, but still she struggled. She didn’t feel unloved per se, she just didn’t feel actively loved by God. God’s love seemed an inward reality that escaped her.
Have you ever questioned why God’s love is so easy to miss? Why do we experience times when the working of God’s love seems hidden to us? Isn’t love foundational to who God is? Doesn’t God want us to feel loved?
If this is something that you have struggled with, then Psalm 136 has a hopeful word. Psalm 136 isn’t one of the popular psalms. In fact, if there was ever an award for the most boring of psalms, I’m confident it would go to Psalm 136. The psalm comes across as pedantic, dry, and frankly, a bit uninspired. At first glance, it offers nothing more than a broad retelling of Israel’s history. And if that weren’t enough, every other line in the psalm is the same. That’s right, the psalm repeats the same statement 26 times.
It is this repeated verse, however, which is significant. Every verse of the psalm ends with the proclamation that “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” But rather than think about the meaning of these words, we need to consider the function of this refrain. The refrain imprints the truth upon us; the words sink deep into our souls. Within the psalm, the repeated phrase is the background music to Israel’s’ history. It is sung in response to every occurrence, event, or happenstance. Arguably, this love wasn’t always recognized in the moment, particularly as Israel made their way through the Exodus. Yet the recognition of God’s love doesn’t create the reality of God’s love. God’s love endures forever.
God’s love is a fact not a feeling. This means that it is claimed even if we question it, do not recognize it, or for some reason unknown to us, cannot feel it. God’s love is never dependent on our emotions. Like music that plays in the background, God’s love is the unending soundtrack to our lives. The psalm encourages us to recognize that all of life is lived in the echo of God’s love. It matters not what type of event we experience, whether it we miraculous or ordinary; the refrain is always the same –God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Are you needing to be reminded of God’s love for you? If so, what might it look like for you to write your own version of Psalm 136? Try writing 26 scenes from your life, tacking on “God’s steadfast love endures forever” after every line. If you don’t know where to start, take a cue from the psalm itself and start with creation around you. For example, I might begin:
O give thanks to the Lord, who sets the sun above Kamloops;
God’s steadfast love endures forever;
Who plants evergreens upon the hills, and establishes the many rivers;
God’s steadfast love endures forever;
With a few lines under your belt, move into reflecting on events from your life. The great thing about this experiment is that you can be as general or as specific as you would like. Be bold in what you describe. Even if an event did not produce an “aha” moment for your faith, dare to see it in the context of God’s steadfast love. Could your recent trip the grocery store be set against the backdrop of God’s love? Could God’s love be the sung refrain as you wrestle through work challenges, traffic jams, or interpersonal conflicts?
“God’s steadfast love endures forever”; This truth changes how we view our lives. God’s love is an atmosphere in which we live; a fact of our relationship with God that permeates every place of our lives. It may be true that we don’t always feel surrounded by God’s love. God’s love isn’t the gleeful twitterpation of emotion. Our relationship with God doesn’t echo the sentimentalized plots of doe-eyed lovers. God’s love is a divine response that envelops our lives. And because God’s love is inseparable from God’s own presence, the truth is stalwart: God’s steadfast love endures forever.