Over the summer I read Ian Cron's amazing memior of his childhood entitled, Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me. He is a great writer with a true gift for storytelling. The book made me laugh out loud on numeorus occassions and weep uncontrollably at other moments. Those who know me are aware that I am not an overly emotional guy who wears his feelings on his sleeve so that is saying something about the power of the book. I am currently re-reading the book with a small group of men who meet at our church early on Friday mornings and a passage stirred up some reflections that I wanted to share here. In his book, Ian Cron remembers and reflects upon the difficult relationship that he had with his father who worked for the CIA and struggled with alcoholism. At one point, Ian writes about the need that every boy has to feel the unconditional love and acceptance of his father.
A young boy needs a father who tells him that life is a loaner, who helps him discover why God sent him to this troubled earth so he doesn't die without having tried to make it better. Most of all, a boy needs to be able to look into his father's eyes and see admiration and delight. Frederick Buechner once wrote, 'The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you.' To see delight in your father's eyes is to see his belief that the party of life would be a bust withoutyou....Boys without fathers, or boys with fathers who for whatever reason keep their loveundisclosed, begin life without a center of gravity. They float like astronauts in space, hoping tofind ballast and a patch of earth where they can plant their feet and make a life. Many of us wholive without these gifts that only a father can bestow go through life banging from guardrail toguardrail,trying to determine why our fathers kept their love nameless, as if ashamed. 1
As I read these words again last night, it hit me that much the same could be said of our relationship with God. Without the assurance of God's love in our lives, a nagging sense of insecurity lurks in the corners of our souls. We veer this way and that looking for something or someone to keep us centered on the road of life. But how could this happen? How could someone believe that God doesn't love them? Don't we hear about the love of God time and time again in Sunday school and in sermon after sermon? To a certain extent we do - especially in Christian denominations such as the United Methodist Church that stress the love and grace of God above the other attributes of the divine. But another thread is woven into our descriptions and conceptions of God and that is the emphasis on God's holiness and justice. God is described as perfect and holy and unable to abide sin. And despite our capacity for self-deception we know in our heart of hearts that we sin. In big ways and little ways we sin against ourselves, the people around us and God. Following that logic it is easy to conclude that God might not really love us because God cannot abide sin.
Both of these qualities (love and holiness) of God are scriptural so it is tough to discount either of them and so we bounce from guardrail to guardrail. At times we feel that God loves us despite our imperfections and at other times we feel that the Lord could not abide our sinful presence and therefore cannot love us. We swing between spritual peaks and valleys of despair. If you have ever driven on the Blue Ridge Parkway with its twists and turns and ups and downs you know that it takes a lot of work to keep the car on the road and after a while you need to take a break. You just can't keep up that kind of pace indefinitely. The same thing happens in our spiritual lives. We get exhausted from all the wild swings and just want to park the car and get out. And sometimes we don't get back in the car.
The truth is that this situation is one of our own making. It is the result of our insecurity running unchecked. We think that if the imperfect human beings around us have a hard time overlooking our sin to love and accept us, then it would be impossible for the perfect God, the Lord of the Universe, to do so. We make the mistake of thinking that God is just as petty and impatient as we are. The good news is that God is not. God is better than us in this regard. It is also the result of our forgetting the story arc in the Bible leads to Jesus, the cross, and resurrection. Our sin does not have the last word. God's love for us is greater than his disdain for sin. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shares the familiar parable of the prodigal son and tells us that God is like the loving father who throws a huge party for the sinful son who comes home. God's love trumps our sin. We see that God believes that the party isn't complete without us. The apostle Paul writes that while we were yet sinners, God reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. God didn't wait for us to get our act together to love us. He loved us anyway and took the initiative to make things right between us.
God has made his love known to us and continues to do so in countless ways but we are often not looking for it and consequently we miss it. God does not keep his love for us a secret. God is not ashamed of us. As someone has said, "That is news that is too good not to be true."
1 Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, p. 47