Raising children is an ongoing adventure that comprises a major part of most of our stories. To parent well over the long haul is no easy task. These precious bundles that are conceived in a moment of pleasure are usually raised with years of challenge. Amy and I have two awesome children, Alicia and Landon. We have raised them intentionally. Early on we prioritized that Christ would be the center of our family and that our beliefs would be lived out in the context of a faith family, our local church. I used to read God’s word to them while they were still in the womb. Amy sang over both of them during all those years where she could rock them to sleep. We have prayed over them since before they were born, and we continue to this very day. She and I are by no means the picture of perfect parenting but, whatever we might be lacking, we have remained committed to a long-term strategy for rearing our kids. To say that we love them is simply insufficient. Parents know the unexplainable blend of delight and ache that arises within when we think on our children. Truly, we love them to the point of it hurting. We two are now in that season of parents where we are beginning to release them back to the Lord so that He can shepherd them according to the way He has planned for them. Alicia will be a legal adult this Summer, while we still have a handful of years left to pour into Landon. Let me say this: whoever they become, they will always have at least two people on earth who will never turn away from them. It is a relational impossibility for their mother and me. We are for them.
“Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore, my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 31:20
Ephraim was one of the tribes in Israel. When God used this name in the verse above, He was referencing the entire northern part of Israel. He was also speaking into a historical season where Ephraim had rebelled and was soon to experience severe discipline from the Father. He spoke against Ephraim often, but those warnings had gone unheeded. Rebellion of the highest degree had characterized these children of God. Prophets were sent by Him to call for their return. Those prophets were outrightly rejected by Ephraim. God was and is a loving Father. He is also a holy and just Father. When He is perpetually dishonored, He has no choice but to bring correction to those who have strayed from Him. Very soon, Ephraim would be taken into captivity by the Assyrians, experiencing the ugly harvest from countless evil seeds planted by them. God would validate His word and enforce His warnings. As any good parent understands, there are times when rebellious children must experience accountability and consequences for their ways and their works. That terrible moment would find Ephraim in short order.
But read that above verse again to hear the heart of the One who was enacting the chastisement. He describes Ephraim as His “dear son”. That Hebrew word translated dear is found nowhere else in the bible. It carries the idea of Ephraim being prized and favored. God also describes Ephraim as His “darling child”. Again, in the word translated darling, God intentionally uses a word that is seldom used anywhere else in Scripture and nowhere else in the book of Jeremiah. He speaks of rebellious, stiff-necked Ephraim as His darling, His preferred child. Though the interaction between the Father and His children had been diminished by their sins, nothing of the core relationship had changed at all. He was still Daddy. God’s heart was still tender towards His people. He despised what they had done, but He could not do anything else but love them intensely. It’s not His nature to stop loving His kids. Truly he had spoken judgment against them, but He promises that He will act in mercy again toward them. Then comes the stunner:
God says, “My heart yearns for them.” God’s anger at their actions never eclipsed the level of His steadfast love for them.
And so it is with you and me. Like our earthly children do to us as we raise them, we, as children of God, will inevitably fail Him at times. Let’s be clear: we sin against Him. We think things that oppose His nature. We say things that grieve His heart. We do things that defy His holy authority. If those thoughts, words or actions persist, God will do to us what He did to Ephraim. God will enact measured chastisement to break us of our resistance. He can go to extremes with His own children if it becomes necessary. We do well to remember, however, these seasons are not carried out by some raging, abusive Father who delights in our punishment. Not at all. Though He speaks against us with His truth, though He push back against our stubbornness with His omnipotence, though He will mute our speech by the paralyzing volume of His own voice of authority – though He do all of these things and more, His heart still yearns for us in undiminished love. It is amazing to me that He can do that. I am astounded that God can act in full and holy discipline, and yet still operate toward us with a heart overflowing with full-throttle love. His goodness is eventually what brings us to repentance and brokenness. His gentleness is always right behind our response to his discipline. It may sound a little over-simplified but…after He spanks us, He hugs us tightly. He reassures us that He is still our Abba. He whispers that His love never dropped a notch while we were determined to think, speak or act in ways that opposed Him.
We melt in arms that hold us like that.
We yield to a voice that comforts us like that.
We find our true selves again when we experience love like that.
We recognize that Father has surely had mercy upon us, just like He promised Ephraim.
So, for those who may feel like they are serial-stumblers, repeat violators, proven Kingdom vagabonds who wonder how God could ever love them again, let me just point you back to the revelation of His heart found in Jeremiah 31:20:
He loves you.
He loves you with a love that defies logic.
He yearns for you.
He is a good, good Father. Anytime you are ready, His arms are open for your return.
So run there.