The discoveries have of late centered in themes that are wonderfully revealed in the following interchange between Jake and John in chapter 6, "Loving Father or Fairy Godmother?" in So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman.
John: "So you think God owes you better?"
Jake: "Doesn't he? Why should I try so hard to follow him if he won't watch out for me?"
"So that's it," John replied. "You grew up with the idea that your goodness would actually control the way God treats you. If you do your part, he has to do his."
"That's not true?"
“Jake, God’s doing his part all the time. He loves you more than anyone else ever will and will not keep his hands out of your life. Sometimes we cooperate and sometimes we don’t and that can affect how things sort out. But don’t think you can control God by your actions because it isn’t like that. If we could control God, he’d turn out like us. Wouldn’t it be better to let him have his way with us so we become like him?”
I think you get what I was discovering. I have been amazed to discover that I STILL think like Jake at times, even though I know in my head that this is not the way God is nor how He works.
Brennan Manning, in his wonderful classic, Abba's Child, puts this wrong thinking even more starkly, and I was arrested by his words as I read them last night. Commenting on Flannery O'Connor's sad character, Ruller, in The Turkey, Manning writes: "In Ruller, many of us Christians stand revealed, naked, exposed. Our God, it seems, is One who benevolently gives turkeys and capriciously takes them away. When He gives them, it signals His interest in and pleasure with us. We feel close to God and are spurred to generosity. When He takes them away, it signals His displeasure and rejection. We feel cast off by God. He is fickle, unpredictable, whimsical. He builds us up only to let us down. He remembers our past sins and retaliates by snatching the turkeys of health, wealth, inner peace, progeny, empire, success and joy.
"And so we unwittingly project onto God our own attitudes and feelings toward ourselves. As Blaise Pascal wrote, 'God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment.'"
Ouch! Surely I don't really view God like that, do I? Perhaps not nearly as much as I used to, but I have discovered that pain and emotional pressure expose remnants of such thinking in us. If things get bad enough, my mind is at least tempted to run to such thinking. But now let me share the rest of what God has been showing me.
In a word, God has once again revealed His patient loving pursuit of me in my blackest moods and darkest thoughts. In ways that are beyond description His goodness continues to chase me down, wrestling me to the ground again and again so that He can embrace me and quiet me with His love. Yes, I can and will delay the effects of His pursuit, but He is relentless in His kindness in the midst of our pain. As the patient Father He is, He holds His squirming, distracted and frightened child until the child quiets down. Any of you who are parents can picture what I am describing.
And then there is a revelation even beyond this one. I have found myself horrified at times that I can still be so broken, selfish, willful, etc. Put enough pressure on me, it seems, and I will default to self-orientation! But instead of finding God staring at me in disapproval with His arms crossed, I find Him inviting me into His embrace. And so I find myself on a deeper journey into something we all assent to but barely grasp. Brennan Manning (Abba's Child) describes this as real conversion, and his words describe what I have been experiencing in much deeper ways of late. "It takes a profound conversion to accept that God is relentlessly tender and compassionate toward us just as we are--not in spite of our sins and faults (that would not be total acceptance), but with them. Though God does not condone or sanction evil, He does not withhold His love because there is evil in us."
And so I am continuing to discover the Abba I thought I knew. Pressures, as Scripture often tells us, refine and purify. This process is painful beyond belief, and humbling in the best sense, but the revelation of who God is in the middle of it is not only what sustains us but awes us into silent wonder.
My prayer is that my transparency in this post will serve you in some way. As Brennan Manning says, "If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others." (Abba's Child). As one whose inner "creepy crawlies" have been exposed more than once only to be transformed by His illumination, my prayer is that your own wounds may be healed in some small way as you are encouraged to run into Father's embrace, even in the midst of questions, pain and sin.
I conclude with a quote from Brother Lawrence that I have shared before (from one of his letters). It captures well the wonder of this ever deeper journey into living loved. "I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence."
Marveling at His love,
Tom, one of Abba's children