“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty. There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heav’n. There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment giv’n.
There’s a welcome for the sinner, and a promised grace made good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood. There is grace enough for thousands of new worlds as great as this; there is room for fresh creations in that upper home of bliss.
For the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind. But we make this love too narrow by false limits of our own’ and we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own.” – “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (ELW 587 vv. 1-3)
This is one of my all time favorite hymns. It is probably best known for it’s use during Lent and maybe that’s why I post it near Ash Wednesday. However, it is important for us to remember the wideness of God’s mercy, especially as we come face to face with our need for it.
Sometimes we tend to forget about the wideness of God, not just in terms of God’s mercy, but in relation to God as divine. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I try and fit God into my neat little package- the one that’s wrapped up nice and pretty. I try and say God is like this or like that when really I’m not so sure I’m qualified to say much about God at all. If this whole Christianity thing is true and I’m trying to be a good disciple (follower) of Jesus, then what I come to know from Jesus is that there is a whole lot more to God than we ever think about. God doesn’t always fit nicely into my little box; sometimes God, through Jesus, surprises me and does something outside of what I think God can/should do.
This hymn, written by Frederick Faber, was written around the 1840’s, and Faber originally includes 12 stanzas to which most hymnal editors have cut down to a maximum of six (the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal only includes 4). One of the most remarkable aspects about this hymn is to tug at the heart strings. Look at the phrasing in verse 1- “There is kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty.” Liberty is freedom from sin and from all the oppressive forces of the world, and even of ourselves. There is kindness there. “There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heav’n.” Think about that! Earth’s sorrows, which are many- pollution, carelessness for creation, wars, fighting, broken families, ended relationships- think of the ways in which God in heaven feels these even as we here on earth feel them too.
“For the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind… But we make this love too narrow by false limits of our own’ and we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own.” Woah! In church life, we hear sermons all the time about the love of God, it is a Lutheran distinctive to talk about the love of God as grace- God’s love freely given. And that love is way broader than I can ever imagine. Jesus shows that love all over the place in the gospels to people we probably wouldn’t- think of the boy possessed with a spirit from this last Sunday’s reading, the constant number of people who would be unclean, the people we would label outcasts. Jesus shows us that God’s love reaches them, yet we are the ones who try and place limits on that love as if it were ours to give. If only they did this, if only they wouldn’t do that… We’re all guilty of it, me too!
I invite you to dwell with this hymn a little bit today. There is a wideness in God’s mercy and a wideness in God’s love. If somehow we can get that, what possibilities that might open for us; but also for our world. We are loved period- that’s the gospel message, that’s the good news. The call, then, is to love others too. I leave you today with some closing words from one of Faber’s verses that didn’t make it in the hymnal: If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word; and our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.” Many of us know that life is not all sunshine, but when it comes from the Lord, dear friends, the sun does shine.
Prayer: I leave you with the words of the hymn as your prayer. If you would like to listen to the hymn and have access to Youtube, I would invite you to visit this link to hear the Birmingham Boys Choir sing a version of this hymn.