Some authors tell me that God doesn't want us to be miserable, anxious, or burdened. If we feel any of these then something must be wrong with our concept of God. I know this for a fact, that at this point I still have a distorted image of God, influenced by my stubborn fears cultivated since childhood. It's a huge blessing then that as God's servants, nay, as His friends, God reveals Himself to us. The Bible is teeming with words that define God's nature. I picked out one passage that comes up frequently during my prayer time. Psalm 103:8 says: "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." While listening to an a capella Jesuit music CD, I sat down this afternoon to attempt to meditate upon these qualities of the Lord, believing fully well that my attitude towards my life would change if only I would deepen my knowledge of God.
- "The Lord is merciful." I have only begun to scratch the surface of God's merciful nature. Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life", says that if we had unpleasable teachers or parents while growing up, we should not think that God is like that to us. I must have related to persons in authority with fear all my life, for even with God I get panic attacks if I know that I have given in too often to my weaknesses. I act as if I don't know Him. I act as if His mercies are not new and fresh every morning. I carry so much emotional baggage, so much guilt, and I refuse to let go of them thinking I deserve punishment for giving in to temptation. Yes, I am my own judge, jury and executioner. Yet every time I run to Him for Reconciliation, I discover that the only sacrifice He asks of me is the unconditional offering of my heart, to join His waiting heart.
2. "The Lord is gracious". We all know that we should not define a word by the same word, yet when I consulted the dictionary, "gracious" is defined as "possessing divine grace". The definition seemed redundant and not as precise as I needed it to be. Perhaps there is no other way to describe grace as it is wholly attributed to God alone. In "What's So Amazing About Grace?", Philip Yancey devotes a whole book to this most wonderful of divine gifts, the root word of gracious. His is the scholarly approach, mine springs from the little that I understand of grace. What it is supposed to mean now as I munch on this verse is that the Lord possess the compassion, the graciousness, the openness that we hungry souls need. It means to me that if only I'd take a deeper look at God, I would not be afraid of Him, for I would see kindness in His eyes, and this, no matter how lazy or selfish I have been. They say a housewife is gracious if she welcomes her guests into her home with warm food and provides them with a comfortable place to sleep at night without asking for anything in return. They say a woman is gracious when, despite her pain and her burdens, she gives of herself, she loves those who hurt her and smiles as if the pain makes her joy sweeter. Perhaps when applied to God graciousness means more, infinitely more.
3. "The Lord is slow to anger". Now I would get more personal, if that were possible. For anger, I know well. I have been exposed to a lot of anger as a child, and even now in my profession. It is a feeling I have also harbored in my heart. I battle with my temper as I know I shouldn't let it consume me and make me forget who I am - a child of God. Since I come from a family with a low boiling temperature, I've always perceived God to be that way also. Yet the psalmist says that He is the opposite, that He does not anger easily. Scripture tells of how God had held back His anger towards His people even if they repeatedly turned their backs on Him and probably deserved annihilation. So in dealing with me, God does not keep a record of wrongs and He does not send down lightning to obliterate me when I disobey Him. This is not so easy for me to grasp. To me it's still an immediate action-reaction equation, forgetting that God's ways are not our ways. I still need to learn that sin does not bring about an equivalent punishment; nor does disobedience merit rebuke at all times. I see a long winding road ahead of me, marred only by my misconceptions and views of this strange yet loving God.
4. "The Lord is abounding in steadfast love". Abounding. Steadfast. Love. Honestly I cannot wrap my brain around God's love for me. Yes I speak about it and witness it, but it is not a concept that I have exhausted to the maximum. Here is the verse telling me that not only does God love me, His love is also abundant and steadfast. God's love flows like an endless fountain so that if I choose to drink from it now I could never exhaust it. God's Love is such that no matter how many times I reject Him, He would wait with open arms, like a father to a prodigal daughter. Why do you love me, Lord? Why? In one of our prayer meetings, Ted prophesied that for God, we do not need to understand His love, all we have to do is just to accept it. What often perplexes me and leads to a dead end is the nagging thought that I don't deserve to be loved personally by this Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Master, Teacher. What have I done to deserve even an iota of that fountain of love? Nothing. His Love so freely and lavishly given exists and is ours for the taking. I have walked around this Love. I have inspected it, reduced it to microscopic proportions, extrapolated on it in countless essays, and yet I am still mightily confounded by this Lover and His love for me. Again, my reflections are not new.
Several souls from agest past have already gazed at the heavens and raised these very same questions to God. I take comfort in these psalmists, saints, songwriters, priests, and friends who share my spiritual journey and who have left behind lamp posts so I don't always grope in the dark. I am so very far from knowing my God. My soul is thankful, however, for significant little insights that give me enough light for the step I am on. I close this very long reflection with another Jesuit song, with words from Psalm 139, a psalm every child of God must have sung to Him at one moment in their lives, at which time they have temporarily glimpsed who God is, and which helped them to accept what they could not understand.
You Are Near -
Music and Lyric by Dan Schutte S.J.
adapted from Psalm 139
Yahweh I know You are near
Standing always by my side
You guard me from the foe
And you lead me in ways everlasting
Lord you have searched my heart
And You know when I sit and when I stand
Your hand is upon me
Protecting me from death
Keeping me from harm
Where can I run from Your love
If I climb to the heavens You are there
If I fly to the sunrise
Or sail beyond the sea
You would still be there
You know my heart and its ways
You who formed me before I was born
In the secret of darkness
Before I saw the sun
In my mother’s womb
Marvelous to me are Your works
How profound are Your thoughts my Lord
Even if I could count them
They number as the stars
You would still be there