As I work my way through my list of excuses people give for choosing not to give regular time for the care and nurture of their souls in a corporate gathering, I have to look at myself. I have used Excuse Number Ten, “God will understand” multiple times as a justification for doing something I know I shouldn’t--or for not doing something I know I should.
God will understand. When I look at that statement just by itself, I become aware of my hubris--how easily I decide for God! What a quick trip for me into the mind of the Holy and Almighty One where I, limited as I am, can say with such certainty, “this is no big deal to God.”
I have enough insight into my own soul to know that when I start using words like that, I’m about to make a choice that is invariably the least helpful of the possibilities in front of me.
I’ll try a few on for size here:
- God will understand if I do not have active compassion for those on the margins (because someone else will?).
- God will understand if I systematically bully or mistreat others (because maybe they don’t have real feelings like I do--so God made them a little less important than I am?).
- God will understand if I violate my own conscience to a point where that violation has become so habitual that I can no longer hear that quiet voice (because God really is a heavenly-placed magician who will spread pixie dust over the devastation I offer to myself and others so it will all mysteriously turn out just fine).
- God will understand if I skate my way through life, cheating and lying (because I’m really just human, after all, and not much can be expected of me, especially the hard work of becoming conformed to the image of the Holy One).
- God will understand if I sleep in on yet another day of worship (because, after all, I do deserve that day of rest after working so hard all week!)
It gets kind of sick, doesn’t it? I can excuse anything I want to do with those words, “God will understand.” I can dismiss the failure to take up any responsibility with those same words.
Even so, I also find a profound truth in the phrase, “God will understand.” It touches upon the whole concept of grace, but in a way that leaves the idea empty. Grace: the wondrous and mysterious action of God that intentionally invites all us creatures into what I call a state of forgiven intimacy--both with the Holy One and with each other. By flippantly dismissing this invitation as “God will understand,” we land in the quagmire of what is often called cheap grace. The invitation costs everything. Our reception of it as “God understands my laziness and is happy with my excuses” tramples this invitation and heaves it into the trash bin.
Understanding and communicating the nature of grace may be the impossible quest. Grace really is God’s free gift to us. That gift is the invitation to return joyfully to the heart of God, with complete forgiveness offered. But too often we think this gift can be simply set aside until it becomes more convenient to receive it. In other words, we don’t value it, don’t savor it, and don’t take the time to respond with thankfulness.
Participation in worship does not earn one’s way into heaven. It does prepare us to recognize what Jesus often taught: the kingdom of heaven is all about us. Worship trains our souls to be more receptive to that joyous grace. Worship teaches us to live out the image of God stamped upon us as we learn to forgive those around us. More about this next week, as I explore excuse number nine, “Someone (or several someones) at the church hurt me and never apologized.”