January 14, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
It is the Lord your God who has fought for you.
You cannot call him a friend of the Reformation in England. As one of his first acts after reclaiming the vacant throne of England, Charles II rescinded the reforms to the Church which had been outlined by the Westminster Assembly not 12 years earlier.
Yet in the Great Fire of London in 1666, Charles II did an extraordinary thing—a most unkingly thing. Forsaking royal privilege, he took to the streets himself to fight the fire. He left the protection and comfort of the palace and entered into his people’s tumult to render aid. Seen building a firebreak with the Duke of York, Charles was found “filthy, smoke-blackened and tired.” He hadn’t donned his robes for a photo op. He came to fight for his people.
In the winter of his life, Joshua gathers Israel to remind them of the Lord’s intervention on their behalf. Like Charles, the Lord had refused to remain above the fray as His people faced insurmountable odds. The Lord, Joshua says, had fought for them.
But he doesn’t recapitulate recent history for the sake of storytelling. He means to endear the Lord to Israel and to elicit a response. In view of God’s help, they’re to keep the Book of the Law (v. 6). They’re to cling to Him alone (v. 8), being vigilant to keep Him as the Lord of their lives. And then in verse 11, Joshua summarizes and amplifies what it means to keep the Law and cling to the Lord: “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” He does not solicit a slavish obedience from them, but a loving one.
Blaise Pascal, in his Pensées, said, “What a long way it is between knowing God and loving Him,” to which Peter Kreeft in his commentary adds, “The length of the gap is infinite. The most brilliant theological mind in the universe is also the one with the least love: his name is Lucifer” (Christianity for Modern Pagans).
How easily we content ourselves with a knowledge of God that does not translate into joy in Him or love for His people! How pitifully we fool ourselves into thinking that the ability to articulate the truth of God is proof of our love for Him!
So how does one bridge the gap between merely knowing God and actually loving Him? You find your love for Him in His loving fight for you. You can celebrate the beauties He’s authored in creation. You may delight in the glories of His manifold gifts. But His battle against what has threatened you foremost must form the capstone of your love. You must continually look into that truth.
That is why Joshua recounted Israel’s history the way he did.
That is why Mark reminded us Sunday of how God fought most deftly for us in His Son.
Our very conversion centers on apprehending that God in Christ vanquished sin, death, and hell on our behalf. Our ongoing sanctification demands a continual reflective recapitulation of His loving fight for us—lest we fall prey to less substantial overtures of love. All sin is a failure to trust that His love for you is true. Our perseverance in the work He lays before us is sustained by a sense of His fight for us. “Peter, do you love me?... Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
It is, in a sense, a fight to traverse that distance between the knowledge of God and the love of God. Yet even in that fight, you aren’t left to your own devices. You are not alone! He fights for you in that too. Why else would Jesus be interceding for us if not to marshal the Lord’s strength in our fight? (Heb. 7:24–25).
Though one might say true knowledge of God necessarily translates into love for God, does your sense of Him today feel more like bare knowledge? If it does, then for now, as Joshua told the people, listen closely to what the Lord has said in His Word, cling tightly to what He says is good, then consider (again) deeply the cost and outcome of His fight for you.