When God’s Stomach Aches

BY JAKE ALLSTAEDT

The display of Solomon's wisdom in 1 Kings 3:16-28 has always been one of my favorite stories, but it wasn't until I had a son of my own that I more fully understood the emotion behind the mother's plea.

Here's what happened: "Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, 'Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. And this woman's son died in the night, because she lay on him. And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.' But the other woman said, 'No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.' The first said, 'No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.' Thus they spoke before the king" (1 Kings 3:16-22).

Without access to a DNA test or the Maury show, Solomon came up with a plan: "Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other" (1 Kings 3:25). It was a brilliant plan that exposed the truth, allowing Solomon to identify the mother. The birth mother pleaded with Solomon to give her child to the other woman rather than kill him because "her heart yearned for her son." The emotion described in the Hebrew text is one of deep affection. It's the kind of love that causes your stomach to ache. She refused to let him die, even if it meant losing him to the other woman.

I'm thankful that I have not been in that kind of situation, but I understand that deep affection that a parent has for their child. That's how I feel about my son. Sometimes my insides hurt when I miss him. I still love him even when he does things that frustrate me! The other day, for example, he would not let me get him ready. He refused to let me put on his clothes and get him out the door. Then, when I finally got him out the door, the first thing he did was run to a massive puddle in our driveway and jump in it. His clothes were soaked. We had to do the whole process over again. 

It's in moments like that with my son that I honestly wonder if God still loves me. My sin must be frustrating to Him. And God knows that I've done worse than jumping into puddles. I’ve push Him away. I’ve taken His good gifts and thrown them in the garbage. I've been like the prodigal son of Luke 15 who wished his dad was dead and squandered his life on the pleasures of the world. Does God still love me after all I've said and done?

The prodigal son of Luke 15 thought that he could work out a deal with his father. He thought he messed up too much to ever be his son again—a servant, maybe, but not his son. But the father had none of that. He loved his son, and nothing could change that. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). The word translated "compassion" is the verb form of the Greek word splagchnon, which literally means "entrails." You might even use the word "guts." The father had a deep affection for his son that caused his stomach to ache when he saw him. It's the same kind of ache that the mother who stood before Solomon had for her son.

The father in the parable represents our Heavenly Father. We are the prodigal son. And how does God feel about us sinners? God loves us so much that His stomach aches. His insides hurt. He refuses to let our sins separate us from Him. He refuses to let us die. He refuses to "work out a deal" with us. He refuses to let us be anything but His beloved children for eternity.

How do we know that this is how God feels about us even after everything we've said and done? "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). The certainty of God's love for us is found solely in the death of Jesus, His only Son. Before the foundation of the world, God loved Him. I can't even begin to understand the depth of that love, but that's the same Son that hung on the cross to suffer and die for our sins. How do we know God loves us? He sacrificed His Son—His Son!—so that He would never lose us. "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:1).

That's the kind of love that makes your stomach ache.

Jake serves as the pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Williston Park, NY. He received his Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 2011. His passions include exploring the depths of God's grace, playing guitar, good coffee, White Castle burgers, and old school video games. Jake and his lovely wife, Christina, have one adorable little son named Roman.