Advent is a season of remembrance and expectation. We remember past longings for a Savior and His miraculous arrival as we also look forward to the completion of all things. To do this, we retell and revisit the old, tragic yet beautiful, true tale of humanity’s sin and God’s loving, tenacious pursuit of us, reconciling us to Himself through Jesus, at all cost to Himself.
We, like Isaiah said long ago, are so very prone to stray–even to purposefully flee. Yet, through the ages, and even now, God has not left us to get what we deserve. This Advent I’ve been reminded of that through a narrative that Jason and I have been reading (Behold the Lamb of God, by Russ Ramsey) and through a couple poems.
The first, The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson, recounts one man’s experience with God’s loving and unflagging chase. It begins with the narrator’s flight of fear:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me’.
The protagonist fears the exclusivity of God’s love–
For, though I knew His love Who followed,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.
–and so his only option is to run to all the corners of the earth, seeking to fill his longings on his own so be “free.” Through it all, God gives chase, and through it all, the narrator sees the frustration of his every attempt to satisfy his longings, until at last, run-ragged, he stops.
There, God’s pursuit overcomes him, washing over him like a flood of sharp, cleansing truth and warming grace:
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
‘And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
‘Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest* love from thee, who dravest Me.’
Love has found the protagonist, ecompassed him, not because of any inherent worth in himself, but because it is the nature of God’s love to seek, and find, and give.
So it is that this Advent, I say, with Thompson and others who have been found by Jesus, “Fear wist [knew, willed] not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.”