I've always been in awe of people who have the guts to get a tattoo. It's not their physical bravery or social courage that impresses me so much as the permanence of their decision. Maybe at the time you really like Mickey Mouse, but what if you outgrow your Disney phase in a few years? Or what if things don't work out with Billy or Johnny?
I think it's this idea of permanence that makes Isaiah 49:16 so appealing: "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."
Did you catch that? God has a tattoo. And it has your name on it. With full knowledge of what he was getting himself into, God made a decision to love us. That decision wasn't a temporary commitmenthis love won't stop if someone better comes along. And it wasn't a conditional commitmenthis love isn't based on what we can contribute to the relationship. It's a forever promise, a "not even death can part us" promise.
In our human relationships, we long for tangible reminders that we're loved. We want people to remember our birthday, send us flowers for no particular reason, tell us what they appreciate about us, hug us.
Yesterday I ate dinner with some friends who have a four-year-old son, Zach. He seized the first lull in the conversation to tug on my sleeve and say, "I have a secret to tell you." Then he "whispered" into my ear, loud enough for the whole table to hear, "I love you!" Five minutes later, another tug, another whisper. This time: "I love you very much!" Throughout the evening, Zach's eyes lit up every time he thought of another way to express his love.
I melted each time he delivered his secret. And I was reminded of how we're wired to be told we're loved.
God knows we have this need. He understands our short memory and our desire for tangible proof. So not only does he tell us over and over in Scripture how crazy he is about us, he went so far as to engrave our names on the palms of his hands. If there ever was a doubt of his love, God's tattoo settles it now and forever. We belong to him. Permanently. Uncon-ditionally. "It is he who made us, and we are his" (Psalm 100:3).
Apparently we aren't the first ones who needed reminders of God's love. Thousands of years ago, God assured the Israelites of the coming Redeemer and of his plan to save them (Isaiah 49). But the Israelites weren't convinced. Though they'd seen God's faithfulness in the past, they were desperate for a little proof. They lamented, "The Lord has turned away and forgotten us" (Isaiah 49:14, cev).
I, too, have seen plenty of evidence of God's faithfulness. But like the Israelites, I've been parched for some proof of God's love recently. Since third-grade Sunday school, I've known that God so loved the world, but in the past few months I've longed for some affirmation that he so loves me. Maybe I crave God-love so much because I've been reminded recently of how conditional and transitory human relationships tend to be.