The love of God is a love of rest, contentment and delight.
“He will rest in his love” (Zeph. 3:17).
Today’s guest contributor is 17th Century English Puritan John Owen (in my forthcoming Pantheon of Protestants—spoiler alert—Owen cracks the top five). Owen can be a challenge to read, but he is a true giant of spiritual formation. In his Communion with God, he describes the exchange of love between God and his people through Christ. Owen writes:
The love of God is a love of rest, contentment and delight. “He will rest in his love” (Zeph. 3:17). Literally, the Hebrew is, “He shall be silent with his love.” To rest with contentment is expressed by being silent, that is, without grumbling and complaining. Because God’s love is so full, so perfect and so absolute, it will not allow him to complain of anything in those whom he loves. So he is silent. When God is said to “rest in his love,” it means he is satisfied with the object of his love and will not seek for a more satisfying object to love. His love will make its home in the soul on which it is fixed forever. This verse also shows God as delighting in the object of his love. He rejoices as one that is fully satisfied in the object he has chosen to love.
–John Owen, Communion with God, 18-19
If you’re like me, the words “rest, contentment and delight” stir up a deep-seated longing. I long for true rest and joyfulness! Not just relief from weariness and fatigue, not just a quick but fleeting bit of happiness, not just a great meal or day off… but true REST? Real CONTENTMENT? Pure and holy DELIGHT? Where can these be found? Only in the great love of God!! See, God is completely restful, content and delighted in his own love—the love shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the divine mystery of the Godhead—and when he sets his love on us through Christ, as Owen says, “he is satisfied with the object of his love and will not seek for a more satisfying object to love.” What a powerful and reassuring truth! Of course God is satisfied… but completely happy and satisfied with us? It would be impossible, but in Christ, what’s true of the Son is true of all God’s sons and daughters. We are united to Christ through faith and now bring all the rest, contentment and delight to God the Father that the Son himself brings! Praise God!!
So how, Rev. Owen, are we to respond? He continues:
The saints’ love to God in response to God’s love for them is also a love of rest, contentment and delight. David says, “Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Ps. 116:7). David makes God his resting place. He is so content with God as his resting place that he has no desire to look for another. “Whom have I in heaven but you?” asks David. “And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25). The soul stops all its wanderings and searchings to rest in God alone. The soul chooses the Father for its present and eternal rest. David does this with delight. “Because your loving-kindness is better than life,” says David, “my lips shall praise you” (Ps. 63:3). David sees God as better than life itself with all its joys. Seeing himself in the jaws of death, rolling into the grave through innumerable troubles, yet he found more sweetness in God than in a long life under its best and noblest conditions, with all the enjoyments that make life pleasant and comfortable. An example of this is given in Hosea: “Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods,’ for in you the fatherless finds mercy” (Hos. 14:3). They reject the best appearances of rest and contentment, to find it all in God, on whom they cast themselves as if they were helpless orphans.
See, the rest, contentment and delight that God enjoys truly does reach us as he draws us further into his presence by the Spirit. Just as God is so satisfied with his creature that he doesn’t look for a more pleasing object to love, so we can be so satisfied with our Creator that we don’t have to look for a more pleasing lover. How beautiful: “The soul stops all its wanderings and searchings to rest in God alone.” The soul stops all its wandering, all its striving, all its restless toiling, and rests content and delighted in God.
This is the heart of formation: becoming more Godlike in our attitudes, actions and outlook through setting my mind, heart and life on God alone. Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you indeed.