I was recently at a service where Psalm 136 was read responsively. This psalm calls on worshipers to praise God for who he is, praise him for his great works of creation, and praise him for what he has done on behalf of his people Israel. There are 26 verses and each verse ends with the refrain for his steadfast love endures forever. Over and over the phrase for his steadfast love endures forever was repeated. My first thought was how repetitive. I think we have got the idea. Of course that kind of thinking comes from my sinful self-centeredness. We like to think God just can’t help but love us since he so loving and we are loveable. We are not amazed by the love of God because we do not understand the holiness of God. (There are those who tend to think that God could not love us because he is so holy but they seem to be a rare find.) Clearly, I wasn’t really thinking about what was being said. Later I began to think over this simple refrain and was truly humbled.
I thought about each word. The refrain begins with the word for. This indicates that this refrain is a response to what has just been said about God. Next, we have the word his which shows we are saying something about God. What do we say about God? What do we hear others say about God? Do my words about God inspire worship of God? The words that hit me the hardest are steadfast love. Steadfast is a wonderful word. The dictionary defines this word as “firmly fixed in place (immovable)” or “not subject to change.” Is this how we think of God’s love towards us? I know many times I have not thought of God’s love towards me as steadfast. If I’m doing good he loves me more, if I’m doing bad he loves me less. This is not the case. God’s love is based on his character, not my attitudes or behavior. What the writer of Psalm 136 realized was that God had done mighty works and delivered his people, not because his people deserved it, but because his love towards his people was unchanging. The psalmist even mentions God’s common grace towards all people (verse 25) and follows this with for his steadfast love endures forever. Love in this life surely does not look steadfast with people claiming they fall in and out of love. This is where we have to correct our understanding of love. As long as we think of love as a feeling then we cannot even fathom how God’s love is steadfast. Finally, this steadfast love endures forever. It would seem that if something is steadfast it does not change and therefore must endure forever. If that is the case why mention how long God’s steadfast love will endure? One reason is we use the term steadfast in a temporal sense. For example, a husband that is committed to his wife until the death of either spouse is considered to be steadfast in his commitment to his wife. However, this commitment does not endure forever. Nothing in this earthly life endures forever. Everything is temporary. Also, the words endures forever are praising God for his faithfulness to his people. This contrasts with our unfaithfulness. God’s love is not separated from his whole being, which includes his faithfulness and his holiness. God throughout history has acted to demonstrate his commitment to his people, but his ultimate act of love for his people was sending his son Jesus to die on the cross. As Paul says in Romans chapter 5
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)
Not only did God show great love by sending Jesus to die for us, this love is steadfast love that will endure forever.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:9-10 ESV)
Jesus is faithfully interceding for his unfaithful people, you and me, at the right hand of the Father. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Paul’s words at the end of Romans chapter 8 are another way of saying the steadfast love of God endures forever.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)
This great God who is the God of gods and Lord of lords, who does great wonders, who made all that is, shows steadfast love to his people and will do so for all eternity. Oh that I may never tire in this life of saying his steadfast love endures forever for we will say this for time unending with joyful and thankful hearts. Read Psalm 136 and rejoice in the steadfast love of our God.