The Inexplicable Love of God
I was recently in a public space where I saw a bulletin board of pictures of men who are sexual offenders. As I read them, however, I realized some committed crimes more than 20 years ago, yet their picture and address are shown for all to see 20 YEARS LATER! It made me think of Les Miserables and Javert’s comment to the former convict Jean Val Jean, “Men like you can never change!”
This then led me to think about some recent visits I had to the District Court. I had the opportunity to watch a variety of cases which exemplified fallen humanity. One drug dealer was caught for the second or third time dealing drugs, and sentenced to prison. Another man violently abused his girlfriend right in front of his children while under the influence of drugs. There was a well dressed man facing a prison sentence because the police caught him several times driving under the influence of alcohol. And then there were many others who faced minor, and sometimes major offenses.
As I listened to each story, I thought about the victims who suffered, about the perpetrators who committed the crimes, about the family members impacted by these actions, about the innocent bystanders who may have witnessed violent acts, as well as about the sometimes innocent people who became the victim of a fallen judicial system. A room full of broken people, some of whom society wants to cast away into prison and simply forget about.
Our fallen human nature obviously means that people will make all kinds of bad choices, and sometimes act in evil and vicious ways. When such things happen, our world and society too often want to punish people and simply get rid of them. Some go to jail. Some get probation. Others pay fines. Too often our society views punishment and retribution as the only way to keep law and order in tact.
Our society wants to punish, wants to reject, wants to give the impression that once you’re a sinner, you will always be a sinner. Thus, you must be punished!
Yet God acts in a very different way! Whenever He sees someone who is fallen and broken, He is NOT interested in punishment and justice! He is NOT interested in revenge and retribution. He is NOT interested in control through fear of chastisement. Instead, God’s unconditional, radical, unfathomable love IS interested in only one thing - healing and repentance. He IS interested in offering second chances that can lead to new life. As the Scriptures say, “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 who have no need of repentance.”
The hope of our Lord always looks for the old to become new. God has an unfathomable love for each and every one of His children, even children who have made bad choices and acted in foolish or even evil ways. God unabashedly loves each and every sinner as His beloved children.
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom put it this way: "Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute or the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty… Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to him. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted.”
What a great way to summarize the worldview and mission that our Lord calls every Orthodox Christian to have - to first see God’s beauty all around us and in everyone we meet, and then to call forth that beauty from everything and everyone.
We live in an impure world where it seems so much easier to focus on the negative, to point out the evil and darkness and impurity all around us. In fact, our impure hearts and minds often lead us to question and doubt even that which is most pure and beautiful. Our fallen nature and fallen world tempt us to focus on the darkness and evil all around us. That is why we see so many people tear down others, and concentrate on what is negative and evil.
Christ does the opposite. He sees the good in everyone. He knows that each person was created in the palm of His hand. No matter what evil someone has done, no matter how much someone has fallen, no matter how poor the choices are that someone made, Christ knows the divine potential that lies hidden within!
This is what Jesus sees in the Prodigal Son – the lost son who rejects his father, runs away from his heavenly home, wastes his life in extravagant, reckless, and self-indulged living only to end up in the depths of hell, eating the food of pigs and identifying with the swine of the world.
The boy made bad choices. The boy acted not only foolishly, but even evilly. The boy was a self-centered scoundrel. And yet, His heavenly father passionately loved him with His unconditional and unending divine love. No matter what that boy did, God still knew that this was His beloved child, a child created in the image and likeness of God, with an unforgotten potential to become a new creation, a child destined for union with God.
Where the world sees a hopeless case, where they see a lost soul, where they see an evil person, where they think that the person should be cast in prison and forgotten about, God sees something entirely different - a broken child filled with limitless potential, a lost son/daughter who has a hidden beauty deep within. God gladly and joyously offers His unfathomable, radical, divine love to bless each and every fallen, prodigal sinner.
Always remember the image and example of the Prodigal Son. A younger son despises his father, offends his father, rejects his father, forgets about his father and runs off with his father’s inheritance. In Judaic tradition this was an unforgivable offense. And yet, Jesus reveals how the father patiently and lovingly waits for his son. And once that return occurs, the father holds no grudge, no anger, no rebuke, and no desire for retribution or even justice. Instead, he runs out to his son, lovingly embraces him, showers him with kindness and compassion, and sees only a broken man in need of healing. The father blesses his lost son with full restoration back to his original beauty.
God never desires the death of a sinner, but wishes only for his or her return back to their divine destiny. What unfathomable, inexplicable, divine love. That is the love that dominates the heart of God. Imagine a love whose only desire is for broken humanity to find healing and wholeness and renewal in Him! May we dwell in such love, and always strive to share it with others
With much joy and love in Jesus Christ our Lord,
Welcome to our Church
Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019