Gentleness and Firmness

Have you awakened from a dream so good, you wanted to stay in it? I’m sure you have, it was that way for me this morning. I went back to sleep and continued it. But it was such a good dream and so exciting that I couldn’t seem to stay in it for long. However, the repeat was enough to convince me it was true, and that was the best part.

I seemed to be on vacation with my husband and my whole family. The place was so beautiful, the weather so perfect, and the fun so surprising and special. God told me He was going to tell us some things, and not to discount the children’s input, and it seemed all my grandchildren the oldest to the youngest were there. It would be a Divine treasure hunt, each one supplying his or her piece to the instructions. We only got the first part before I woke up, But the feelings of it were so fun, so wonderful, I had to ask God if I could share them here because later I know they will fade.

I intended to finish this last weekend and never got back to it, and the feelings did fade. I don’t remember “the first part”–wish I’d written it, but when I read about the dream again, I thought of the prophecy in Joel 2. It is about a very dark time, after which God’s people turn to Him, and He pours out his Spirit on them causing their sons and daughters to prophecy and see visions.

I also thought about God’s love. I think about it a lot, but this time it was more analytical. I’m writing about Samson who didn’t seem to want his gifts and calling and kept turning away to do his own thing. And yet God stayed with him and blessed and helped him–until he sold out. And then he let his enemies take him. They were cruel, but his forced hard labor gave him time to think and get it all sorted out. And he turned to God for real, not just for help. And then when he got the opportunity, he asked for God’s help one more time to defeat his enemies, and it was given to him. It’s a sad story, one that went so differently than God would have liked, but it ended well.

What gets me, is the firmness and gentleness of God’s love. He is so steadfast, so constant, so gentle with our craziness, so gracious with our self-willed, do-it-my-way attitudes and behavior. And yet He is firm.

“You don’t have to be harsh to be firm.” I say that a lot to my clients. It’s taken me a lifetime to learn it. It’s just that our anger gets in the way!

Does God get angry? Oh yes, God gets angry, but His anger doesn’t make Him mean like our anger does. He gets sad, and steps back to let us have our own way–which we think is freedom and is really controlled by the dark side.

Freedom that fits us, that frees us, that revives us is only found in love. That is all through scripture, but especially in the story of Samson who just keeps insisting on his way, and God stays with him until He can’t. (Because He respects freedom, and we live in a war.) But as soon as Samson turns back to God, God is there.

It takes a truck load of strength to be gentle and firm at the same time–to give freedom with boundaries and hold them firmly even if you have to step back and let someone spiral out-of-control. It’s so hard to watch. So hard not to get angry. So hard not to lose faith. But our anger usually makes things worse. Usually, but not always, if it’s well-directed at evil. Even then, true love is not harsh. It just lets go.

I’ve talked quite a bit about boundaries here, and how important they are, how healthy they are. They undergird our security. They are necessary to protect freedom.

God is so matter-of-fact with boundaries: saying this works, this doesn’t. We get stirred up. If only we could take our personal feelings out of the equation–our feelings of being hurt by the other person’s choices. When it’s your children it’s hard to do. And if it is defiance, that is really hard and needs to be addressed, but still anger contaminates our response. God does come down hard on defiance, but again, He doesn’t hurt us; He steps back.

I don’t see God as punishing. Punishment comes from our need to hurt someone. God doesn’t have that. Why would He? He has no desire to hurt us, only to uplift us and see us thrive. Revenge is not in His character. I know Isaiah has God saying “Vengeance is mine. I will repay…” but that is because He can handle it without anger and we can’t. He does it by giving us the natural results of our choices, and since evil is alive and well on this planet, when He steps back, they jump in to cause suffering. They are cruel, their characters have become ruined and they love to hurt us and destroy us and all happiness. But that is the opposite of God. He has no pleasure in our suffering or death. I have gone back to the original words on some passages like the second commandment, where “visiting” or “punishing” could have been translated “overseeing” as in looking for a response to love in estranged children for four generations. It’s our bias that often determines the translation. So we have made God look more like us than He (They) should.

The more like God we become, the more we will be free from fear and anger. The more free we are the easier it is to be firm and not harsh. Gentleness and firmness do go together. They work together for good.

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