He restores my soul . . . (Psalm 23:3)
The human way of thinking is that if I repeatedly fail in my Christian life, God gets angry or at least annoyed with me. For instance, in this passage describing what happened after Peter’s three denials that he knew Jesus . . .
And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:59–62)
. . . I tend to imagine Jesus sternly looking at Peter and that look causing Peter to wilt. However, the shepherd does not do that. A sheep that has fallen and cannot get up gets his full and tender attention. The goal is always to get that poor animal restored to an upright and healthy condition. He restores my soul.
In another passage, Jesus tells of His care for the fallen in a parable. The Pharisees and scribes grumbled because He was “receiving sinners and eating with them” so Jesus said, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1–7)
In another situation, the parable was not a story but enacted in real life. Those same scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. Trying to trap Jesus, they wanted to know if they should stone her as the law says. Jesus didn’t answer but wrote on the ground and when they persisted, He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He kept writing and they filed out, beginning with the older ones. Left alone with her, He asked her if anyone condemned her and she said no one. Then He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:1–11)
This week, one of my professors pointed out the order of His words and how they show the way God thinks about sinners that He saves. Just like a shepherd would never say to a fallen sheep, “I will rescue you only if you promise to never get in this predicament again,” the Lord first saves by removing all condemnation, then talks about how we ought to respond. That is, Christ died for us while we were still sinners not when we cleaned up our act. His love for us is not conditional.
That means that no matter how many times I stumble, or tip over, or fall down and am helpless, He seeks me out with rescue and restoration in mind, not rebuke and wrath.
He once told a sinner that those who are forgiven much will love much. As a sheep that struggles to stay near my Shepherd, I’m beginning to understand how that works.