But God is rich in unfailing love

Nehemiah 9:16-17 Our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands . . . But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them.

I’m attending the St Davids  Christian Writers’ Conference in Grove City, PA. This morning Sue, the devotional speaker, told us a wonderful story that I want to share with you. It’s the story behind the third verse of the hymn, “The Love of God.” The third verse goes like this:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,

Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill, and ev’ry man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole, tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

              (Chorus) O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!

              It shall forever more endure, the saints’ and angels’ song.

Frederick M. Lehman wrote the first two verses of this hymn in 1917, but he got stuck on verse three—and a proper hymn needed to have three stanzas! After some time, a man brought him the words above, which had been discovered scratched on the wall behind the bed of an asylum patient who had died.

As it turned out, the words had actually been penned long before, in Germany between 1050 and 1100 AD. Henry IV had declared himself a Holy Roman Emperor. But it’s one thing to decide you want to be ruler of the world, and it’s another to convince everyone else. Henry needed a cause, something dramatic that would make him famous. His advisers suggested they mount their own “Crusade” right there in Germany, to extinguish the Jewish population. (Yes: horrifying anti-Semitism way back then!).

Henry decided to meet with the chief rabbi, Rabbi Meir. “Give me a reason not to destroy your people,” he demanded. Rabbi Meir went home and wrote ninety two-line couplets, including what would become centuries later the third verse of “The Love of God.”

Henry was so impressed with Rabbi Meir’s work that he canceled his “Crusade” against the Jews. Since then, Rabbi Meir’s ninety couplets are still used in Jewish worship.

Today, you and I too can celebrate the great love of God, who is a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. He does not abandon us!

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