Updated: Jan 3
"What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" (Psalms 8:4, NIV).
I have often asked God, "Why are you mindful of us?" Why do you care? Despite everything we do, why do you still love us? God, are you sure you want to dwell in THESE temples?" I asked these questions because I could not comprehend how an all-powerful God would choose to dwell among us and within us and experience our weaknesses.
Humanity's relationship with God is one of the greatest mysteries. A quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, God In Search of Man, provides insight into God's purpose for humanity. "God is not a being detached from man to be sought after, but a power that seeks, pursues, and calls upon man" (Heschel, 2000). So what motivates God to pursue us?
Recently, I was reading the book of John, where Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection. I was particularly intrigued by the actions of Peter, his disciple.
"Afterward, Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus. He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it and some bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore" (John 21:1-11, NIV).
Although I have read this passage many times, I never noticed how quickly Peter jumped into the water. In the Orthodox Jewish Bible translation, Peter is said to have "thrown himself into the sea." Peter was so overwhelmed with joy that he wanted to get to Jesus immediately. In the scriptures, Peter is known for being impulsive. In other words, you might not want to "roll up" on Peter because you might lose a body part! While I say this in jest, this was Peter's natural disposition, yet he still loved God wholeheartedly. Of all the disciples, he was the most zealous. Peter was the one who bravely walked on water to follow Jesus. When he heard Jesus had risen, he ran to the tomb while the other disciples doubted it. No matter where Jesus was, Peter wanted to be there.
Peter could have sat quietly in the boat and rowed over to see Jesus like the other disciples. However, his sense of urgency was greater than that of his fellow disciples. When Peter last encountered Jesus, he was a broken man. To give context, before the Crucifixion, Peter denied knowing that he knew Jesus. Can you imagine living with that guilt for the rest of your life? So I can understand Peter's urgency. He may have wondered if he was forgiven or if Jesus still considered him a disciple.
Having read this story, I was especially touched by the fact that Peter was compelled to come to Jesus instead of feeling condemned by him. I cannot imagine anyone being excited to see someone they had betrayed and denied. Why did Peter feel so comfortable approaching Jesus despite what he had done? It was God's love.
If you read further in the passage after Peter saw Jesus by the sea of Galilee, you will notice that Peter did not say anything to Jesus. Instead, he climbs back into the boat and drags the net ashore. After Peter and the disciples unloaded all the fish, they sat down to eat with Jesus. I can imagine Peter's mind replaying the scene of the Last Supper where Jesus predicted he would deny him. I am sure seeing Jesus brought back those memories. The same was true of Judas. Judas also broke bread with Jesus before he betrayed him. Remember, Peter and Judas attended the Last Supper together. However, in Matthew 26:20 (NIV), Jesus predicted that only "one" of them would betray him, which was Judas. Despite knowing that Peter would disown him, Jesus took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee to Gethsemane. He chose to take them at the most sacred yet painful time of his life. Jesus viewed Peter's situation from a broader perspective. He knew what was in store for Peter in the future.
Peter's mind is full of questions as he breaks bread with Jesus once again. He wants to know where he stands with Jesus, but he does not say anything. Jesus knows this but only addresses it at the end of the meal. When the moment finally comes, Jesus makes no mention of Peter's denial. Instead, the conversation is focused on love. In John 21:15-16 (NIV), Jesus asked Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Peter replied, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus asked him this question three times; ironically, Peter had previously denied him three times. Jesus knew that Peter loved him, but he wanted Peter to demonstrate that love by caring for his sheep.
This moment in the scriptures demonstrates God's love for humanity. Peter jumped into the water to follow Jesus when he appeared to them after the resurrection. However, it was Jesus who called for Peter and his disciples, proving Rabbi Heschel's quote. "God is not a being detached from man to be sought after, but a power that seeks, pursues, and calls upon man," (Heschel, 2000, p. 198).
God is intimately aware of us. While Jesus was on the cross being whipped with a cat 'o nine tails, speared in the side, forced to drink vinegar, brutally beaten beyond recognition, denied, and betrayed by his disciples, he thought about Peter. When Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to the empty tomb, God sent an angel to deliver a personal message to Peter.
"He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, he is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you" (Mark 16:6-7, NIV).
It was that agape love that moved Peter to come to Jesus instead of running away from Him. We are always on God's mind. No matter how much we dwell on our mistakes, God sees us through the lens of love. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus!