I was thinking again recently about this verse from Hebrews 11: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (11:6; NKJV). Particularly the last part which tells us we must believe that God is the kind of God who is a rewarder of those who seek Him. It could be easy here to get side-tracked about ideas of merit, that rewarding is pointing to the receiving of something deserved. But I think the emphasis is not about us getting, but rather about God giving. The object of our faith is a God who gives good gifts, who rewards his people generously. The picture presented in the Scriptures is not that we have a God who merely deals in terms of justice, some kind of strict legalist, not able to exceed the boundaries of the letter of the law. There is no doubt that justice is important to God, that law is important and proper, and yet God is not a God only of justice. We could well say that as Christians we ought to diligently seek God out of mere duty, that God deserves our service, and we should not expect any reward, that we have no right to any reward. And yet how wonderful it is that we have a God who does reward, and who will reward even if there were no strict requirement to do so.
While I think there is significant appropriateness in speaking of Christ as meriting our salvation (though perhaps 'merit' can also have problematic connotations), and of understanding God's covenantal dealings with us, yet I think it would be an inadequate representation of our great God if we thought of His plans and purposes in Christ merely in terms of strict legal or commercial-like transactions. If nothing else, we should remember that in all Christ did for us, strict justice would have compelled him to do nothing for us at all, except condemn us because of our sin. If we are to speak of any compulsion, it would have to be the free love of God that compelled Father, Son and Holy Spirit to act on our behalf, for our benefit.
When God reveals himself to Moses, he accentuates that he is a God "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7, NKJV). The Scriptures abound with testimonies to God's love, kindness, generosity and goodness. As John writes, if we know God at all, then we will know that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). This is a truth underlined in the Bible, as if the Scriptures were using that favourite preachers' line, "If there is only one thing you remember from all that I am saying to you, remember this, God is love!"
I've also just recently worked through the book of Jonah again in the last two weeks, in a study with overseas students. Jonah knew this truth about God, concerning the loving nature of God, when he contemplated God's command to preach to the wicked city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:2). And yet while he knew the truth formally, and no doubt as a Jew and a prophet of God, had even experienced God's love as a beneficiary, he didn't really comprehend or understand this fundamental truth. Jonah did not appreciate the reality of the fact sufficiently. He was a living illustration of what not to do, concerning what the apostle John later wrote (1 John 4:8). If he really knew that God is love, then Jonah would have loved. But when he considered the possibility that God might have compassion and love towards the people of Nineveh, Jonah was filled with bitterness and hatred, angry enough to die (cf. Jonah 4:3). It is all too easy for us to be like Jonah. We know formally that God is a loving, gracious, rewarding God, yet the reality of that fact does not sink into the depths of our being and doesn't change our life. Perhaps we are like Jonah, not desiring God's graciousness towards others, because of racism, prejudice, or whatever kind of pride or selfishness it may be. In our own irrational and contradictory way, we can be miserly with God's generosity. Or perhaps we just doubt God, lacking faith concerning our own situations, that he will have no time to listen to us, or be unwilling to give of himself to us, or that his love towards us might come to an end sometime, as if the generous and rewarding God were really a stingy and miserly God. And yet many passages remind us otherwise, such as Romans 8:32, Romans 5:10, James 1:5. As also does Hebrews 11:6.
Well, really it is nothing very complex, nothing too intellectual, but something I think I need to take more time to stop and remember. I must really believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. At least for me, it is something too easily forgotten or passed over. I guess it is as the old Kelloggs slogan goes, "The simple things in life are often the best"!