Psalm 145:8-9 tells us that “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.” Does this mean that God will forgive anything? He is love, and he just loves me – no matter what I do.
Yes, God is love and God will always love you. But does that mean that we can just do anything at all. If we continue reading to verse 17, we find: “The Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.” We must also integrate this verse, as it is also true.
God is love. God is also just and holy.
How do these work together? If God is love, doesn’t that mean he will forgive me anything? Yes, if we ask for forgiveness sincerely. Yet, even then, God is also just. He is all good and only good will be before him.
Love does not mean “accepting of evil”. “Loving” is not – or should not be – a synonym for “doormat”.
If this doesn’t make sense, consider an analogy. I’m married, and there are things I could do to injure my marriage. I might forget our anniversary. I might get angry and say something unkind. There are also things I could do to kill it – the relationship, if not the sacrament. I could hurt my wife or children in such a way that she has no choice but to leave.
In our lives there are ways to injure relationships and ways to kill them. Likewise, there are ways to injure a relationship with God and ways to kill it. When we are talking about our relationship with God, we call these venial sins and mortal (Latin for “deadly”) sins.
Moreover, are these sins God’s fault? Again, consider our analogy. If I do something to kill my relationship with my wife, has she done anything wrong? No. But she does have to act, out of justice or out of concern for others or concern for me. She does not want the relationship to be injured or killed; it is my action that does it. We cannot blame her for my actions. Nor can we blame God for the effects of sin. If I choose, through my actions, to leave my marriage, my wife is merely excepting my choice. She is not willing it.
In a similar way, God desires a relationship with all of us. He wants to be with us all in eternity. That’s why he created us, after all. and he calls us through the day, and all through our lives, to come back to him – to repair or even resurrect the relationship.
In the mass readings, these psalm verses are paired with the Gospel of Matthew 20:1-16. Here Jesus tells the parable in which a landowner hires laborers throughout the day. At the end, he pays those he hired at the end of the day the same as those he hired at the beginning.
Those who worked through the whole day are offended, and I think many of us understand that. Why should those who worked one hour get the same pay as those who worked all day?
At least, we understand this when we apply the parable to God’s forgiveness. If I have worked my whole life to have a relationship with God and to keep it strong, then I hope to be in heaven. But the person who acts wrongly through his whole life and repents on his deathbed also gets to be in heaven. That’s not fair!
To any of us who can’t except this dichotomy, Jesus asks “are you envious because I am generous?” I think we often are. I know I am. Yet how much trouble would we be in if God were truly fair? Is there anything any of us can do to truly learn heaven on our own? Is there anything we can do with our mortal powers and our mortal life to earn an immortal prize? No, nothing.
It is all grace–all a free gift of God’s. The comparison of one person’s lifelong relationship with God and another’s deathbed conversion is not a comparison between one worker who has given more and one who has given less. Rather, it is a comparison of two sinners, neither of whom are truly can deserve the gift they are given.
Further, it is not a zero-sum game. Someone else’s heavenly glory detracts not in the slightest from mine. When someone else wins, I do not lose. My life is not wasted because someone else “snuck” into heaven. Rather, I have had the gift of relationship with God, and – frequently, I am sure – the gift of his forgiveness.
A life spent in relationship with God is not something we sacrifice for God, rather it is something God gifts us with. It is love. It is marriage. And the goal is not to earn your wage it is to have the relationship in the first place.
We are not on lucky to have spent longer getting to heaven, we are blessed to have had a lifelong relationship with God. And we should, like all of Heaven does, rejoice when another comes home.
Copyright 2014, Joe Wetterling