Many years ago, I heard a story about a conservative Christian couple who had to confront their beliefs in a very painful way. It struck me and has stayed with me, and this is what I remember of it: The couple’s son struggled with drug addiction and was in and out of jail. Though they tried to convince him to accept Jesus as his Savior so that he could be forgiven and saved, he would not do it. One evening, the son was in a horrible accident, and it was clear that he would not survive. As the parents arrived at the hospital, their grief was tangible. They were losing their son, to this life and also to eternal life, and the situation seemed hopeless. When the minister joined the couple, they all bowed their heads to pray. “God,” the minister said, “We love this man, Your child, greatly and we have forgiven him for his mistakes. We know that Your love and Your compassion is so much more profound than our own. We release him now to Your care.” I can only imagine the sense of peace and hope at that moment.
The God of the Old Testament can be astoundingly angry and vengeful and can evoke great dread. I am much more frightened by the thought that God is a violent and wrathful God than by the thought that God might not exist. But Jesus takes away my fear and changes everything. Jesus demonstrates the radical love, the gentleness, and the compassion of God. Far from distancing himself from the outcasts and condemned of society, Jesus seeks out their company and recognizes their value. Because of Jesus, we are reassured that God is walking with us, God is suffering alongside of us, God has not abandoned us. And at the darkest hour, when the light has been extinguished and all hope seems to be lost, God overcomes. God’s Goodness is triumphant.
Jesus shows me that I need not fear a violent God (the type who might require an excruciating sacrifice and forgive with strings attached). In Jesus, I am reassured that we have a radically loving God whose compassion is infinitely deeper than I can even comprehend – a God who is with us always, in the greatest suffering of this life and into the joyful glory that is beyond it.
Thanks be to God! Hallelujah, Hallelujah!