"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly"- these are the words of Jesus to all persons (John 10:10). He also said to the woman at the well "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water " (John 4:10). And he understood her hesitation at being offered such a great and extensive gift.
But how common it is for people inside and outside our churches not to know the full extent of God's grace. They imagine God as a cosmic moralist, or an impersonal absolute, or an all-controlling power. So they find it hard to recognize him as the Father and Lover who calls us all to come and embrace him. That is why we need to focus anew on the grace and love of God. This is good news theology; it is the megashift we have needed: God is a Father who cares for us, not a judge criticizing from a distance.
There are some beautiful words in the Song of Solomon:
My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past
the rain is over and gone....
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely....
My beloved is mine and I am his;
he pastures his flock among the lilies. (Song 2:10-11, 13-14, 16)
Infinitely more than any human lover, our heavenly Lover is calling to us. We are invited to embrace God's sublime beauty and radiance. Let God awaken your desire and flood your being with love. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Augustine (354-430 AD) of Hippo in North Africa lamented his tardiness to this kind of love:
Too late did I love thee, O Fairness, so ancient and yet so new. Too late did I love thee. For behold, thou wert within, and I without, and there did I seek thee. I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty thou madest. Thou wert with me, but I was not with thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and forced open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and chase away my blindness. Thou didst exhale odors, and I drew in my breath and do pant after thee. I tasted and do hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me and I burned for thy peace. (Confessions 10.27)
God is so radiant that he deserves beautiful theology, theology done with joy and thankfulness, theology that can dance and sing. Karl Barth wrote: "Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science." [Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2/1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957), p. 656.] Intolerable too are dark thoughts about God, in whom there is no darkness at all.
In this book we have sought to portray a vision of God, the dimensions of whose love are boundless and whom to know is life eternal. This is surely the best apologetic for faith. Proofs of God's existence, evidences for Christ's resurrection, explanations of difficult sayings may have value for some purposes. But nothing can surpass the compelling power of a vision of God's grace. We want to lift up the grace, openness and reciprocity of God.
Paul explains that "where sin increased, grace abounded even more (Romans 5:20). God has done all that is needed to reconcile the world and has given humanity a new future. A process of healing and reconciliation is underway and it will issue in our transformation and a perfect consummation. [Henri Boulad, All Is Grace: God and the Mystery of Time (New York: Crossroad, 1991).] It is not an easy process. We can now see that it was easier for God to create the world than to redeem it now that it is broken. What an art to retrieve clay that was spoiled and reshape it into something lovely! But the power of God makes life new, the alchemy of his grace creates beauty out of ashes.
The prodigal squandered his own family's resources and betrayed its trust, but the father still welcomed him home without condemnation. He was not interested in discussing the reasons for the young man's bad behavior. The father was so overjoyed to see his son that he ran out to meet him, wrapping him in an embrace. Through that story God keeps speaking to us: "Whatever you have done, come home, just as you are. Do not dress up, do not try to appear worthy. I receive and forgive you - my grace will transform and change you."
Our creation in God's image was the beginning of the process that only comes to fruition when we respond to the offer of God's gracious acceptance. Grace makes the response possible but does not negate the need for responding. The power that brought the world into being is working to bring out the love potential of every creature. So we invite you to accept the unbounded love of God. Let him multiply the loaves and fishes of your life - let him take the little that you have and bless it.
Our purpose has been to lift up the transforming ways of God with us. We have celebrated the mystery of God's love and acceptance. We have seen how God is gracious in offering us a transforming friendship. No other religion has this to offer, no other model in theology highlights it so well.
Charles Wesley (1707-88) was the hymn writer for the perfect love that was preached by his brother John Wesley (1703-91). This hymn puts that love in a form we can sing:
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit,
Let us find that promised rest.
Take away our bent to sinning,
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty, to deliver,
Let us all thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy perfect love.
Finish then thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.