Church 7/12/2015—-Forgiveness and Wrestling

At church this morning, some of the songs ministered to me.  We sang a couple of different songs from what we normally sing, and we even sang a song from our hymnbook!  Here are some lines that especially resonated with me:

“Everyone needs compassion.  Love that’s never failing.  Let mercy fall on me.  Everyone needs forgiveness….So take me as You find me.  All my fears and failures.  Fill my life again.”

Source: “Mighty to Save,” by Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding.

“Great is your faithfulness, O God.  You wrestle with the sinner’s restless heart.”

Source: “Your Grace Is Enough,” by Matt Maher.

The pastor’s sermon was about seeing God.  According to the pastor, God is in nature, but God sent Jesus to reveal God to us because many of us miss God in nature.  The pastor also said that God is as near to us as our next breath.  Moreover, she said that many of us are afraid to go deeper when it comes to God because we are afraid, but that going deeper into God results in transformation.

I am not sure how to process a lot of this.  On the one hand, the pastor portrays God as close to us already.  On the other hand, she says that we need to see God, and that it is up to us whether we go more deeply into God.  I was contrasting the pastor’s message with the message that I so often hear in Christianity: that we somehow need to bring God’s presence to us, through faith, or being good.  Many evangelicals have pointed out that humanity is in a state of alienation from God—-that God condemns us for our sins, but that God will forgive us if we accept Jesus’ death in our place.  Is that reconcilable with thinking that God is as near to us as our next breath?  But even the pastor this morning seemed to be pointing to a conditional element: we are the ones who need to see God, and it is up to us whether we go deeper.

Is God in my life?  In some seasons, it is really tough to tell, especially when things are just not clicking, and it is difficult to identify anything tangible that can be attributed to God.

The first song ministered to me because it said that we all need compassion and forgiveness.  True.  Can that be reconciled with all of the conditions that the Bible places on being forgiven—-repent, believe, forgive others, confess?  Well, that depends.  If repentance means that I have to completely stop sinning before God forgives me, if forgiving others means that I have to put a grudge out of my system before God forgives me, if believing means that I have to accept a bunch of doctrines without a shadow of a doubt before God forgives me, and if confession means that I have to present God with an exhaustive list of my sins and God won’t forgive me if I leave one out, then I am simply unforgiven.  I don’t know what to say.  These models do not present God’s forgiveness as a free gift, or even as something overly attainable, for they require work that is either difficult for me, or impossible.  But if repentance means at least wanting to be oriented in the right direction, if forgiving others means being willing to show compassion to others and to acknowledge that we all have flaws and need mercy, if belief means turning to God for mercy (which is more relational than intellectually assenting to doctrines), and if confession is being willing to talk with God about my flaws so that God can shed God’s light on them, then God’s forgiveness looks more within my reach.  I do not have to arrive at a state of perfection to receive God’s forgiveness; I do, however, need to humble myself before God, which I do when I acknowledge my flaws, turn to God for mercy, and rely on God’s love.

The second song ministered to me because it perhaps highlighted what God does in my life, and in the lives of others.  God may be as near as my next breath, but that does not tell me much about God, does it?  What does God do?  Well, according to that second song, God wrestles with the sinner’s restless heart.  I am a sinner, and my heart is restless.  I have desires, both good and bad.  I can start out the day, carefree and without animosity, and, before you know it, my mind degenerates down the path of resentments (old and new) and fear.  I know that I wrestle with my restless heart.  Does God, though?  So often, I envision God sitting in heaven and condemning me for what is in my heart.  But I at least go to God in prayer to show God that I want him to put my heart at peace.  Could God be somewhere in this process, actually wrestling with my heart and not merely sitting on the sidelines?  Maybe God is somewhere there—-telling me there is another way, or reminding me that I need to take a breather and go to the throne of grace.

I’ll write about this morning’s Sunday school class later this week, probably on Wednesday.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Church, Music. Bookmark the permalink.