I was reading Psalm 136 yesterday – one of my favourites – and experienced what is a great testimony to the enduring power of Holy Scripture to bring God to us via words we have read many times before. The psalm, as many will know, begins with these words:
‘O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.’
and continues to narrate events from salvation history, interspersed with the refrain ‘for his steadfast love endures for ever’, thus connecting our knowledge of such events with an appreciation of God’s constant concern for us, and readiness to enter into the world He has created, in order to bring about His will, out of love.
What struck me reading Psalm 136 this time was not an original notion, but was something I’d accepted and long-held to be true, re-communicated with a freshness and vitality that actually allowed me to know its truth with the whole of my being – that God is good, in fact Goodness itself, and that his Love is steadfast, enduring for ever. It is an amazing feeling when truths apprehended with the intellect, and consented to with the will become known in this way, and it produced in me such a feeling of gratitude and love within that I couldn’t finish the psalm – I read a bit more, up to the third verse, and just sat back, in awe of these two amazing truths.
God is Good – He is not just good, as in a particularly impressive example of moral integrity or virtuousness, but He is Goodness itself, the source of all right and all good things. What a wondrous thing it is to meditate on this fact, taken for granted so often in life, that not only is there such a thing as Right (so therefore also Wrong) and Good (so therefore also Evil), but that all the things we call good are not so in accordance with a lifeless rule, or impersonal life force, but emanate from the heart and mind of a personal God, whose very nature cannot help pouring Himself out and sharing His goodness with the world.
Furthermore, God is not just Good, but Love, and His love is steadfast, unchanging, not dependent on our achievements or progression in virtue, but completely unwavering, constantly giving more and more of Himself. What is more, this Love is not just steadfast, but eternal – it endures for ever. God did not start being Love at a particular point in time, or for any particular reason; His life is and was and ever shall be a constant mutual pouring out, sharing and indwelling between the three Persons that constitute the Blessed Holy Trinity. This dance of love shared amongst Father, Son and Holy Spirit precedes the world, and the world only exists because the Love of God was so great that He could not bear to keep it to Himself but willed to create something totally other (and the beings within that world) that they might also share in that Love.
This is the only sense in which one can say (and only by analogy) that God ‘needs’ to do anything – in that, given that His very nature is Love, he cannot help pouring Himself out in this way; He could not help creating. This is a great mystery, but a wonderful one to consider, and brings to mind the words of another favourite psalm:
‘O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvellous for me.’
It is also a great mystery that, as is often said, there was a Cross in the heart of God when He created the world – that, seeing all things in one eternal present, He knew the cost of creating a world imbued with freedom, especially the things that his greatest creations, human beings, would be capable of doing with that freedom. He saw also what it would cost Himself, to redeem His creatures from their misuse of free-will, and to breath into them again, as He did in Eden, the gift of Holy Spirit, that we may know a more perfect freedom, to live in harmony with His love, liberated from the slavery of sin.
But, despite the very real cost of love, the world is, and we are, and our salvation is real also. What my mini-epiphany reading Psalm 136 has taught me is that an appreciation of God’s essential nature as Goodness Itself, as the eternal Love that amongst all things in life is the one thing that really is steadfast and can be relied upon, must not be relinquished (though I am sure I will do, again and again). If I can learn anything this Lent, I hope a greater commitment to this truth will be part of it; and I hope each time I say ‘thank goodness’ in conversation, I will be reminded of these amazing truths – for we really can in fact thank Goodness, and His steadfast love really does endure for ever.