How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.
Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
Wafting over the airwaves of the local Christian radio station came the predictable chord progressions of every modern worship song known to humanity. I had turned on the radio to quell the boys’ incessant bickering currently testing my patience, and after a quick scan, realized nothing was child-friendly except for the hyper-caffeinated, ultra-cheery Christian radio hosts who were currently discussing their “fur babies.” I groaned in defeat and told the boys it was time to be quiet. I listened to the male voice crooning in the background, wondering why all male singers are now tenors. Taking a deep breath, I resolved to be cheerful, that is, until the crooning male voice wretched out the lyrics, “Oh. the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.” I nearly ran off the road. “OH COME ON!!!” I shouted in exasperation, while my poor children stared wide-eyed at their deranged mother.
I’m sorry if this particular song is one of your favorites, but it’s horribly flawed. God’s love is not reckless. I can hardly think of a worse description. Recklessness is an absence of good sense; someone who is reckless is careless, foolhardy, rash, makes decisions without giving thought to their consequences, is unconcerned, without caution, and possesses a defiant disregard for peril. Does this sound like your Savior, Christian?
There is a perennial temptation in our churches to make Jesus relatable, to reinvent him as a visionary; a magnetic revolutionary figure who is more like us than previously thought. So much like us, in fact, that some assign him pro bono attributes such as “recklessness” to boost his appeal with the masses, and in doing so run the risk of stripping away his divine nature. But 2000 years of Christian doctrine, practice, history, and scholarship do not afford us the option of distinctive, individually-curated, theological opinions. In the realm of orthodoxy, creative theological pioneers have few seats of honor.
We are more like ancient Israel than we would care to admit. Our God is too big and too wonderful to wrap our infantile minds around, and so we delight in ourselves instead, spending many an hour enraptured by the navel-gazing activity of crafting gods of our own imagination who think like us, speak like us, act like us, and relate to our shortcomings. The hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” gets us back to the basics of who God is and what he’s like. We don’t need an entirely relatable, flawed protagonist to save us, to be able to sufficiently comfort us—we need Jehovah. We’ve always needed Jehovah.
“How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled.” Our faith’s firm foundation is not found in our ingenuity, but in the word of God, and in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us: Jesus. I love that line: “What more can he say than to you he has said?” Stop seeking signs and miracles to shore up your faith and charismatic personalities to tickle your ears; there is nothing more that can be said that God has not already promised. This isn’t hard. This isn’t complicated. Read God’s word. In fact, this entire hymn, apart from the first verse, is a summary of mostly Old Testament promises, and it is written as if God is speaking directly to his people. Think of your Bible as one enormous letter to you from your Father regarding his love and your security. Pore over it, studying its every paragraph, and rest in his Son.
“Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed; for I am your God, and will still give you aid; I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” This is the God we have: righteous and omnipotent, a truly wondrous and terrifying combination if you really take time to think about it. He is our help, our salvation; he will cause us to stand, uphold us, and strengthen us. God preserves us, and thus we persevere. It is good for us to recognize the power of God and not just his love. Too many pastors preach only half a Jesus, emphasizing the softer, more comforting attributes of our Savior. But there is power in the blood! He commands the seas, rides on the clouds, and appears at the end of all things in bright white, face shining as the sun with flaming eyes of fire, a double-edged sword proceeding from his mouth, and a voice like the roar of many waters. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17b-18) Do not trade some culturally-relevant drivel marketing Jesus as an empathetic bestie or a controversial political zealot as any substitute for everything that is the king of Kings.
These first two verses lay the necessary groundwork to bolster our confidence that God will indeed fulfill all his promises that are described in the following three verses. When we feel as if we are drowning in grief, he promises us that “the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow.” When our faith is tested by fire, “the flame shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine.” As we enter the final quarter of life, nearer to the gates of death and frail in body and mind, God promises “like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.” We belong to a God who has not only adopted us as his children, has given us an everlasting inheritance, but who also cares tenderly for us as we experience these light, momentary afflictions on earth. He doesn’t merely take care of us; he also concerns himself with assuring us over and over that he will take care of us. The omnipotence of God does not negate the kindness or the goodness of God. He is both compassionate and almighty, gentle and all-consuming.
“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” This is exactly why I’m so glad I don’t serve a God who is like me. We need everything about who God is in order to rely on him for salvation, to trust him to sustain us amidst all the schemes of hell. The spiritual realm is very, very real. Modern Christians tend to dismiss demonic and Satanic activity as some weird outlier notion, but the Bible warns us otherwise. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Not until we comprehend what we’re up against does God’s promise to never forsake us begin to sound sweet. Not until we have dutifully endeavored to wage war with our sin do God’s promises to not desert us to our foes seem like priceless jewels in our hands.
God’s love for us is not reckless. It is purposeful, planned, and steadfast; there is nothing reckless about a “sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love.” At the end of time and the beginning of eternity, when God’s people are assembled around the throne, we will all worship a Creator whose love sustained us through life, through death, and now into forever.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)