I was taken home from the hospital as a newborn to a little house that sat by a bubbling run. The run then flowed into the beautiful Juniata River on the west end of Lewistown. Our house had a living room, an eat-in kitchen and two bedrooms. For the first five years of my life, it was “home.” It sat recessed from the street level and had the feeling of a little paradise — especially when the neighbors put out their huge garden right beside our home. Like most children, I naturally felt compassion for animals. So one day I decided to free a beautiful bunny from a trap in the middle of our neighbors’ garden. I guess I’ve always leaned toward grace. The neighbors didn’t share my feelings for some reason.
Over the years, I’ve read several books that have challenged quite a few of my images and concepts about God. Foremost among them was and is the Bible. Recently I saw the movie “The Shack.” It teaches more about grace, forgiveness and our tendency to judge ourselves and others, including God, than I could communicate in 100 sermons. Artistic expression abounds in the service of telling the wonderful Gospel story of God’s redeeming love. Those who get hung up on what they think are theological errors may actually reveal their own discomfort with God’s amazing grace. Or they may miss that the author does not confuse forgiveness with relationship. Sometimes grace is so amazing that we who are the beneficiaries begin to twist it back into a system of works. Any good works that we do must always be simply a loving response to receiving God’s grace.
As with the book, the screenwriters who adapted “The Shack” to cinema are making this statement: “God is much bigger and more loving than any human concept can fully describe.”
The movie encourages us to see that there are inherent limitations in anyone’s view of God. The other powerful message was that our tendency toward judgment is the principle way in which we trip ourselves up spiritually. Could it be that those whom we are tempted to judge so harshly in our everyday lives are still precious in the sight of the God? Could it be that God loves each of us more deeply that we have understood up to this point? Could it be that we are to find our “home” in this God whose love exceeds any capacity that we might have for affection and/or devotion?
One of the most challenging scenes reminds me of Proverbs (4:6-9): “Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you. ... If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honor you. She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown.”
I believe that God guides us along paths that we have a choice to follow or to reject. I also believe that we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, 2 Corinthians (5:10). However, to know that the one who gave himself for me will be on that judgment seat is a great relief. Thankfully, we can have relationship with a God who loves us despite our foolishness. We can walk the path to come “home” with confidence that we are the beloved of God.
All of this raises a thorny question as we approach the ultimate holiday of the Christian faith. Why do those who proclaim to be followers of Jesus have such a problem with grace? Grace may be defined as the unmerited or undeserving favor of God to those who are under condemnation. Have we forgotten that apart from the cross all of humanity is without hope both for this life and eternity? And can we allow God to be God to give his grace to anyone whom desires relationship with him through the Son? Several books that might help our journey toward our “home” in God include: Michael Card’s “A Violent Grace,” Brennan Manning’s “Abba’s Child,” Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace” and Max Lucado’s “Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine.” May you find yourself heading toward “home” as you journey through Lent this year.
The Rev. Gene McCallips is the pastor at Fairbrook United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania Furnace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.