The Tenderness of God?
I have been praying for you this week, specifically, that God would intensify your trust in him, and bolster your faith in his goodness.
People often ask me, “How much can you see when you’re on the platform preaching?” My answer is: I see a lot. I notice when people nod off (and pretend to be praying); I catch just about every exchange of hand-written notes; I see the folks scribbling down the points on the screen; I even espy the ups and downs of the habitual restroom retreaters. It’s a strange phenomenon, but there’s much to be observed while speaking in public.
Not only do I see things, but I also think things while I’m preaching. It’s not uncommon for a completely unrelated thought to pop in my head. Haven’t seen her in a while. Or, That man is about two years from losing all his hair (not that I’m against baldness!). Or even: Man, those are some colorful socks.
A couple of weeks ago, while I was leading the church in corporate prayer, this thought popped in my head: That’s the third time I’ve used the word “tender” to describe God in one prayer. Not only was I slightly bothered by my inadvertent redundancy, but I then started to fixate on this question: Is tenderness truly an attribute of God?
The great soul singer, Otis Redding, once encouraged men to “Try a Little Tenderness.” The antidote to weariness, he opined, was a response of gentle compassion. But is that how God responds to us? We talk a lot about God’s holiness, sovereignty, love, power and mercy. But should we also praise God for his tenderness?
The book of Hosea offers a definitive answer. Throughout this oracle, which is made up of words from Hosea followed by words from the Lord, himself, we read about God’s horrific judgment that he promises to bring on his people because of their rebellion. But just about every pronouncement of judgment is followed by a reminder of God’s steadfast love and the sufficiency of his forgiveness.
Every time God says, “I’m going to wipe you out because of your idolatry,” he says almost immediately after, “But how could I destroy the people I love. I won’t let you wander off forever. I will woo you, and win you back to me. My love for you will never fail. You will be called mine again.”
We might say it this way: There is an eagerness to God’s love. God delights in showing love to his children. It’s almost as if he can’t wait to do it. To be sure, God is not impetuous; he never gets swept away by his emotions, but his love is real, it is deep, it is rescuing.
The most arresting reminder of this is in Hosea chapter 11. Here God says: “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” (Hosea 11:3-4)
“Ephraim” was a euphemism for the inhabitants of the northern Kingdom of Israel, but the point extends beyond that: God cares deeply and intimately for his children. With a gentleness and affection that is almost palpable, God bends down to care for his own, holding them while they weakly traverse the uneven ground of this life, ministering to their bodies and souls.
Is God tender? Absolutely. Sure, he is strong and mighty, and infinitely more powerful than any living creature, but he is also gentle, caring and kind, a God who you can go to with all of your cares and struggles. Tell God your fears and anxieties, because he cares for you. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: The one who has held the oceans in his hands and measured off the heavens with his fingers will also “feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11).