That's something we say as an answer to questions like "How long till we get there?" or "How long till you finish fixing the bathroom?" It's a way of telling someone that the answer is immeasurable. After all, a piece of string could be any length!
But it is possible to get an idea of the length of a piece of string. You just need to know where the ends of the string are, and then you'll have an idea of the distance between them.
Actually, it's a little more complicated than that. If the string is wound up into a ball, the distance between the two ends is actually very small compared to the actual length of the string. So to have an idea of how long the string is, you need to know where the ends are when the string is fully stretched. Then you can get an idea of its length.
For example, if you know one end is in the lounge, and the other end is in the kitchen, in your mind you have a rough understanding of its length. If, on the other hand, one end is in the North Pole, and the other end is in the South Pole, then you have a very different picture of its length!
Ok, so right now you're probably why I've started an Easter message with a maths problem! The answer is simple: today, I would like us to try to measure something immeasurable: the love of God for us. To do that, just like with a piece of string, we need to work out where the ends of God's love can be found when it is at full stretch; when it is being tested to its limits, and is at its greatest and most glorious.
How can we find those two end points? They're described to us by the apostle Paul:
"God demonstrates His love in this; that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5v8)
So here is one end of the string: "While we were still sinners"
Where does God's love for us begin? Usually, love begins with attraction. We see something beautiful in someone or something else, and it draws love out of us. It can happen in a variety of contexts, e.g. getting married, choosing a pet, or getting a book from the library.
This kind of love makes a great movie plot: the handsome hunk begins to look beyond the outward appearance of the plain girl in his college class, and notices that she's actually a really wonderful person. He stops paying attention to the superficial, but looks deeper, finds beauty, and begins to love.
Is it the same with God? It's tempting, perhaps, to imagine that our sin is the superficial bit of us; that God looks beyond that, sees that we're actually good people deep down, and begins to love us. But God tells us that the opposite is actually true. God looks beyond our superficial goodness, and sees the darkness of our hearts.
We considered this last week as we looked at Haggai chapter 2. God tells His people His view of the good works they did during the period when they ignored His request to rebuild the temple: "What you offer me is unclean." (Haggai 2v14). We also saw in Isaiah that "all our righteous deeds are like a soiled garment" (Isaiah 64v6).
Jesus reiterates the view that our sins are far greater than we realised. In Matthew chapter 5, he says that a lost temper is like murder, and lust is like adultery. We have all lost our tempers; we have all lusted. We have all been selfish, malicious, deceptive and many other things. "We have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3v23).
Our sins are a barrier between us and God. We are "alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4v18). In a sense, we are excluded from the presence of an omnipresent God. Wherever we go, God is there - and yet beyond our reach.
God sees all the darkness in all of us - He knows us while we are still sinners. He sees us at our very worst.
And that is where He begins to love us.
The other end of the piece of string: "Christ died for us"
Love often requires sacrifice. Usually, the greater the love, the greater the sacrifice a person is willing to make. The apostle Paul tells us here that God's love is so great, He sacrifices His Son. God "so loved the world that He gave His only Son." (John 3v16)
Consider the value of the life that is sacrificed! The life of Jesus, Creator of all things. His life is without a beginning and without blemish. He is pure, and perfectly loyal to God the Father. His name is above all other names. One day, all knees will bow to the name of Jesus.
Consider the value of the relationship that is sacrificed! We must never imagine that God was simply balancing a spiritual equation when He sent His Son to the cross. God loved His Son with a love that was as uncreated as the Son. Yet their eternal interaction is interrupted as Christ is crucified carrying our sins. Jesus cries: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Consider the lyric:
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen one bring many sons to glory
They nailed him to a tree planted by a crimson stream
The Father's voice fell silent as the Son began to scream
God brings us into His family by sacrificing His only Son. He mends our hearts by breaking His own.
So how do we measure the love of God? How long is this piece of string? It is the distance between the worthlessness of the ones loved and the worth of the one sacrificed; the distance between a sinful, ungrateful created people and a sinless, pure uncreated Son.
We cannot measure this distance precisely, but we have an idea of its length. There can be no greater love.
As a closing thought, God's love is more like a tightrope than a piece of string. It's something that you trust your life to. So the question you might want an answer to is: "How strong is this tightrope?"
In Romans 5, the apostle Paul tells us the love of God for His people is eternally secure through the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." (Romans 5v9-10)
Put simply, God will love His children for as long as Jesus lives - and Jesus lives forever! Believe the gospel, and trust your life to the love of God. Perhaps you've made terrible mistakes in the past. You might think "God can't love me as I am." But He already has! Before you could do anything to win His approval, He gave His Son for you.
The death of Jesus Christ demonstrates the love of God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ secures the love of God. What a glorious gospel!