(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.)
A real relationship with God is so hard for us to accept because we can do nothing to earn it, and nothing to discredit it. We are not used to this. We are used to earning our reputations. We are used to pleasing our superiors. We are used to gaining acceptance and love. We are used to a world where good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished.
We are not used to a Father who welcomes us home unequivocally — no questions asked. We are not used to a Father who doesn’t even want to hear our excuses, He just wants to celebrate our homecoming. When this happens to us, we don’t know how to accept it, when it happens to someone else, we are upset that they got something for nothing, after we have worked so hard doing the right thing. Where’s our party? When this happens to someone else we all suddenly become elder sons.
I am always reminded of this when I think about the late Brennan Manning, author of many books and and one of my favorite quotes of all time. What a gift to the body of Christ this man was. He was a Roman Catholic in the contemplative tradition who had such profound revelation of the God of unconditional love that it became his theme to represent that love to us in whatever way he could. He was a special gift to evangelical Christians steeped in guilt and failed expectations.
I had the privilege of hearing him speak a few times and no one could deliver the love of God like this man could. I can still remember walking with him along a California beach and realizing he really believes this. His own story is one of failing so hard at the old way and not feeling worthy of the new. I believe he spoke so forcefully of the love of God because he was always needing to believe it for himself.
I was so glad to discover that at the end of a video that was made for his memorial service there is a recording of a two-sentence homily he would usually deliver somewhere in his talks. It became his trademark statement of the love of God that he would deliver with such force it took your breath away. I have it here in caps because that’s the only way I can do justice to the power of this quote in print. Besides, he always practically shouted these words.
“DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE GOD OF JESUS LOVES YOU BEYOND WORTHINESS AND UNWORTHINESS, BEYOND FIDELITY AND INFIDELITY, THAT HE LOVES YOU IN THE MORNING SUN AND THE EVENING RAIN, THAT HE LOVES YOU WHEN YOUR INTELLECT DENIES IT, YOUR EMOTIONS REFUSE IT, YOUR WHOLE BEING REJECTS IT? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD LOVES WITHOUT CONDITION OR RESERVATION, AND LOVES YOU THIS MOMENT AS YOU ARE AND NOT AS YOU SHOULD BE?”
That’s the new way. It’s what we accept for ourselves and offer to others as grace turned outward, and is harder to receive than to give. It shatters everything we used to believe about God and us. It decimates what we do for God and places us in God where we await the discovery of what He wants to do through us, in spite of us, and because of Him.