Loving the books my friend Tracy loaned me for getting through this isolation. The author Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, says what it seems to me is crucial to experiencing the Good News. “Repentance is not what we do to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.”
A year ago, a friend of mine from church dragged a homeless person to my apartment to talk to me. He knew him from years ago as kids and later when the man had his own successful contracting company. Now he was in an advanced stage of alcoholism and literally living on the streets. As we talked, it became clear that as a soldier in the war with North Vietnam he had done things that he could not forgive himself for and did not believe God would forgive. We both tried to convince him that he was already forgiven, all he needed to do was accept it, be freed to begin over by the grace of that amazing love, and let God show him how to get on with his life.
He talked some about being Catholic, so I could understand why he felt that way since I was Catholic for most of sixty years. But even when I tried to tell him that the church had changed since Vatican II and even Catholics were understanding that all fall short of the glory of God, but Jesus died for our sins. If Jesus’ death didn’t redeem us, what was the point of it? The veteran couldn’t hear us. It was heart breaking. And he went on self destructing and finally succeeded.
I think we all sometimes forget that we were already forgiven before we even sinned, so we carry burdens of guilt over things we can’t undo. We see God as a Judge keeping count of our sins and we struggle under a debt we feel we owe, instead of letting the grace of that love continue to heal us and free us to change.
My very kind and loving husband, Julian, felt that way and couldn’t understand the freedom and joy I had from accepting that Jesus died so that by recognizing and accepting that incredible love and forgiveness, we would be freed to grow more loving. Forgiveness is the heart of love and God’s love cannot be earned. We are his beloved children. Period. Once we experience that love, it is so glorious that we want to let it fill us, heal us, free us, direct us, and empower us to somehow share it with others. It’s a taste of heaven. When I was more or less a “second hand Christian” having been brought up in the church, I definitely didn’t want to go to hell, but I could never imagine anything I’d want to do for eternity in heaven either, not even the things that gave me pleasure or made me happy. But once I experienced that mind blowing joy of being both known and loved totally and tenderly by a God who is Love, I knew I would be fine with an eternity of the joy of that Love. My Julian was not a verbal person. He thought mostly in images and related best to logical concrete things. One day Julian was driving to work and decided to test some of the things I said. So, he prayed as he was driving, “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us if we listen. So okay, I’m listening.” As he thought these words, a flashing light and siren started behind him. And a trooper pulled him over for speeding. When the trooper went back to his car to check on Julian’s credentials and fill out the ticket, Julian was thinking sarcastically, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about how God spoke to me!!” Then the trooper came to the window again and said, “Mr. Norman, while I’ve been working on giving you this ticket, every car that went by here was speeding, most of them more than you were. So, I’m going to tear up this ticket. You be more careful now.” And he literally tore up the ticket. When Julian got to work and called me to tell me this, all I could think of was, Romans 3:23… “since ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a GIFT through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” What a perfect image! Thanks to Jesus, we know that God tears up our ticket.