There is an old story about a man who went to his Rabbi for counsel. “My son is out of control. He disrespects me and does things that are against the laws of God and man. What should I do?” The Rabbi thought for a moment and then said, “Love him more than ever.”
There are some truly strange stories in the Bible. Some of them grow out of cultural traditions for which we have no point of reference. But there is timeless truth in all of them.
One such story is found in Genesis 15. God has made significant promises to Abram. (He would be called Abraham until a little later.) God promised him that he would have offspring that would outnumber the stars. God also promised that he would have a land of his own.
Now at the time, Abram and his wife Sari were already on Social Security and he had no heir. He was also a nomad with no place to call his own. So naturally Abram needed some reassurance that God could keep these promises. So this was God’s command. He was to cut three animals in half and place the halves. So that is what Abram did.
He was to place the halves on either side of a path. Then when the sun went down a flaming pot and a torch passed between the halved animals. This represented God’s promises to Abram.
OK, so that is the way God chose to illustrate what is called a covenant. But why did it have to be so gory and include so much death? It is because God is saying that if God breaks the promises made to Abram, God would die, like those animals. God was swearing on God’s life that the promises were true.
But the essential truth in this story is not that God keeps promises. It is found in what does NOT happen. Abram’s only job, it seems,. was to chase the buzzards away. Notice that Abram is NEVER asked to walk between the animal parts. God is making a unilateral promise. It is not dependent on Abram keeping his end of the bargain. In fact, it isn’t a bargain or even a contract. It is a holy promise and that’s what makes it a covenant.
If you are anything like me, you are glad that God’s promises are not dependent on our keeping ours. God keeps the promise of loving us forever, in spite of our behavior. All it seems that is required of a believer is to well, believe.
In the New Testament it’s called grace. Jesus loves and reaches out to save sinners. That’s good news for me. Of course God wants us to follow in the ways of a self-sacrificing savior who loves without conditions. But when we don’t, the promise is not withdrawn. Like the father in the story, God just loves us more than ever.
There is nothing you can ever do that will make God stop loving you. And there is nothing you can do to earn the love of our sovereign God. It’s just ours for free. It’s called grace. And it truly is amazing.