When I first returned to Catholicism from Buddhism, I struggled mightily with forgiveness. I felt I had turned my back on God for all those years and that somehow I had to do something – suffer some penalty of some sort – in order to be forgiven. (It took me a very long time before I could see my years as a Buddhist as a part – a necessary part – of my spiritual journey with and to God.)
Shortly thereafter, I did my first silent directed retreat. It was an experience of tremendous healing in so many ways. There was one experience in particular that comes to mind. I had had an amazing day with God, including a powerful experience of the healing love of Christ during Eucharist that day. By early evening I was feeling overwhelmed by God’s love. I sat in the chapel and said a prayer of thanksgiving. What I felt, as I wrote in my journal that night, was a sense of gratitude “for being given so much more than I deserve.”
As I sat there expressing to God my wonder that He lavished so much love on me that I didn’t deserve, questioning how He could be so good to me, what appeared to me was the image of the Prodigal Son bring wrapped in the loving arms of his father. You get all this, I heard God say to me, just because you are here. My turning my face to God was enough. There was no necessary act of expiation I had to accomplish. Nothing more was needed for me to be showered with God’s grace, to feel completely embraced by God.
There is a colloquy between God and the main character in The Shack (about which I have written before and some of the passages in which I keep coming back to) where God tries to get him to understand reconciliation. God says, “There has never been a question that what I wanted from the beginning I will get. …Honey, you asked me what Jesus accomplished on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world. … The whole world, Mack. All I’m telling you is that reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally.”
God is already fully reconciled with us. There is nothing for us to earn…nothing we can do to deserve it. All we need to do is accept it.
My friend Tim so strongly recommended that I read William Young’s novel, The Shack, that I moved it to the top of my reading list. And I’m more than glad that I did. The book is a work of fiction, but one that contains much truth. I have no knowledge of the author except the knowledge I glean from reading the book, which is that this is someone who has had deep and direct experiences of God.
A man who has suffered a great tragedy in his life is invited by God to spend a weekend with God (the Trinity, actually) at the site of the tragedy. The weekend changes his life forever, as he learns the answer to what the book cover calls the timeless question: Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain? There are many pieces of the main character’s dialogues with God that I have sat with in my morning prayer these past few days. I would love to see everyone read the book for him/herself and so am reluctant to share too many things about it. But I have spent so much time reflecting on it that it is hard to say nothing. (And I’m guessing this won’t be the only post that comes out of those reflections.)
One of the things that struck me so powerfully as I read the book was the expansiveness of God’s invitation and of God’s love. Although we worship God as “Lord” and use terms like “Master,” the reality is that God does a lot more offering than demanding. God offers relationship and God offers love – constantly and always – but it is for us to decide whether to accept it. God will never force us to accept it; indeed, God will force nothing on us. In the book, Jesus says, “To force my will on you, is exactly what love does not do…I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.” Later, God says, “It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way.”
The invitation is on the table. It always was. It always will be. It is for each of us to decide how to respond to it.
P.S. I am aware that there has been some controversy about this book. Let me be clear, I am not trying to suggest that one should uncritically take all of the dialogue attributed to God by the author as theological truth. There is a discernment process that is necessary with everything we read. Having said that, I do think there is much to reflect on here and there is much of what I read in the book that resonates with my own experience of God.