If God's love were water, what form would it take? Would it be a few drops sprinkled on our foreheads? Would it be a summer rain shower, fragrant and refreshing? Would it be a lake on which we could float around in a little rowboat?
These are all pleasant images, but they are somehow not strong enough. After reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, I am convinced that God's love, if it took the form of water, would be a tidal wave. It would knock us over and sweep us away. We could try swimming to the surface-we would never find it. We could try swimming to the bottom-but we would never find it. We would be hurled along, head over heels. If it really was water, we would surely drown. Since it is not water but God's love, we need only accept, enjoy and be thankful for the irresistible, overwhelming and incomprehensible power of the love of God.
Brennan Manning makes no attempt to be "balanced" when discussing Jesus. He does not discuss the wrath of God in one chapter and the grace of God in the next chapter. He is convinced that most of us simply do not understand how much God loves us. His insight comes from his awareness of his own sinfulness and in particular alcoholism.
The spiritual future of ragamuffins consists not in disavowing that we are sinners but in accepting that truth with growing clarity, rejoicing in God's incredible longing to rescue us in spite of everything. [Manning, Brennan The Ragamuffin Gospel (Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc.) 1990, 2000 p.132].
We must not pretend to believe we are sinners (p.132). We must know we are sinners.
Manning examines biblical examples to convince us of the wild, reckless and immediate nature of the love of God. In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32) we see how a father welcomes the return of a son who has wasted his fortune with wine and bad company. His father welcomes him back in what Manning describes as the most touching verse in the entire Bible:
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly (Luke 15:20).
The father ran to the son. He did not stand there, sternly, waiting for apologies. He did not waste time with recriminations or lectures. He did not insist on promises to be better. The father ran to the son. So might our Lord run to us.
In John 8, we read of the woman in danger of being stoned for adultery. Jesus says simply, "let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7)." The crowd disperses. There is no one to condemn the woman. Jesus says "...go, and from now on sin no more (John 8-11)." Manning is interested in what Jesus did not say:
Jesus didn't ask her if she was sorry. He didn't demand a firm purpose of amendment....She just stood there and Jesus gave her absolution before she asked for it.... The nature of God's love for us is outrageous. (pp. 166-167).
If ever there was a biblical story we wish all our friends in legalistic religions could read, it would be this one.
It is the next example, however, that really made me stop and ponder the nature of God's love for us. We know that Jesus foretold that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crows twice (Mark 14-30). Stop and think what a grievous sin this would be for Peter to commit. It would be a grievous sin for any one of us to commit. Consider the humanity of Peter-he is quite sure he could never do such a thing, that he would die first (Mark 14:31). Remember that the Lord our God is a jealous God. Surely all this adds up to one thing-Peter is going to be in big trouble.
Well, no. Peter goes on to fulfill his destiny, something described earlier by the Lord Jesus:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:17).
This is not the sort of love that we can readily understand. But let us think about it as often and as deeply as we can.