“So that Christ may live in your hearts through faith and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth, so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.” (Ephesian 3:17-19)
Have you ever woken up after a particularly good night’s rest and as you make your first tentative steps away from your bed you begin the luxuriously painful, yet pleasurable act of stretching. Each muscle uncurling, each tendon rearranging itself, each bone popping back into place.
That, my friends, is an excellent metaphor for our relationship with Christ. It’s all about the ongoing bitter/sweet stretch of faith. It isn’t easy to realign ourselves from our worldly slumber back onto God’s path, but we always feel better when we do it.
You see, with Christianity, stretching is necessary because the love of God is simply unimaginable. We have to suspend our disbelief to achieve just a smidgeon of understanding of how wholesome, how pure, how extraordinary a kind of love like that is. As Brennan Manning writes, “Let go of impoverished, circumscribed, and finite perceptions of God. The love of Christ is beyond all knowledge, beyond anything we can intellectualize or imagine. It is not a mild benevolence but a consuming fire. Jesus is unbearably forgiving, so infinitely patient, and unendingly loving that he provides us with the resources we need to live lives of gracious response.”
You can see why it’s hard to wrap our heads around such a love. My wife, Jaclyn, loves me a lot and shows great feats of patience and compassion, but even that is just a glimpse at God’s love for me. I have nothing in this world to compare it to.
Today marks the end of our exploration into this summer’s reading selection, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In the last few chapters he makes his final argument for the unflinching Grace of God. He mentions that fifteen years after its publication, he received a good bit of criticism on the focus of his book. Many felt it was bit long on love, while a bit short on morality. A kind of “where’s the beef” dispute. His critics felt it contained too much grace and not enough consequence.
However, there is a consequence to accepting this kind of love. Even though Christ’s love is all-encompassing and all-inclusive, receiving it isn’t easy and it’s not without personal cost. As Manning exclaims, “Love has its own exigencies. It weighs and counts nothing but expects everything.” You can’t walk away from accepting God’s love without becoming a changed man or woman. You walk away with the call to love others and bring them into the same grace and forgiveness that you have experienced. “No wonder so many of us elect to surrender our souls to the rules rather than to living in union with Love.”
So, while Manning may have gone overboard on the theme of grace and love, God does it infinitely more. And thank goodness He does. Thank goodness God is long on love and short on morality. If He wasn’t we would all be in trouble, at least I know I would!
When we have entered into a real relationship with God, we no longer want to do, say, and be whatever we want. We want to continue to stretch toward God’s Grace. We want to grow taller, soar farther, and live longer in the heart of God. And that changes a person. That kind of love transforms a person for the better.