It is not we who are pursuing God, but God who is pursuing us. Every effort we make to go to God is a lowering of our defenses against the divine approach. God surrounds us with infinite mercy like sunshine. But we tend to keep the curtains at our windows closed, occasionally opening them ajar to let in just a tiny ray of light. If we chose to, we could yank open the heavy drapes, and find ourselves bathed in light!Keating, Thomas. The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience. New York: Continuum, 2008. Print.
God pursues us through His love. His love, as Paul said, was demonstrated towards us in Christ (Romans 5:8). Eternal life, therefore, is a gift from God because of His, not our, goodness (Romans 6:23). This gift was offered “while we were enemies,” and it is something that is accepted, not earned. That is, it is something to be received, not that we have to pursue to find or earn it. Paul said it best in his letter to the Romans,
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.Romans 5:6–11
Reconciliation is something that is received. This is what Keating meant by his “yanking open the curtains” analogy. It is something that everyone has access to but not everyone accepts. While God has offered life to all men, it is obvious from looking at the world around us, paying special attention to the bulk of people who are Christian, that not everyone is aware of the One who “is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
So, what do we have to do?
I think about playing tag with my brothers and sisters growing up. If they are “it” and you want them to have a chance of catching you, just slow down. Or, in extreme cases, stop!
This is what we have to do with God.
Stop running towards your own righteousness. Stop chasing after the goal of sinless perfection. Stop sprinting towards the need to have all of your theological ducks in a row, and become aware of the gift that has been made available to every person. Because the faster and harder we run, the further from God we get! But, of course, He is always in hot pursuit.
The truth is, we will never be able to reach the above goals, or, if we do or think that we do, what we will grab hold of is not God, but a god made in our own image. Speaking of something earned versus something received as a gift, Paul wrote,
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…Romans 4:2–5
When the COVID lock down began, a few friends and I met weekly on Zoom for a period of fellowship, conversation, and study. My friend Jeremy presented some relatable thoughts on our experience in the lock down from Psalm 1. Allow me to share a summary of those here:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.Psalm 1:1–3
One group is active: walking, standing, sitting. The other group is still, meditating day and night, and planted, allowing God to provide the increase. These comments made a lot of sense in the context of social distancing and staying at home when one could, and they also fit poetically with our discussion here.
God desires to have a relationship with us. All we have to do is yank open the curtains that we installed and allow the divine light to flood our soul. In the process, our deeds will be exposed, but one doesn’t know the extent of the dust in the house until the lights are turned on.
The other day, for example, I gave Cayden some baby food. After wiping off his face, cleaning his hands, and getting him into his stroller, we started out for a walk, but when we stepped into the sunlight, I could tell I did not do as good of a job as I thought and neither did his mommy.
Our relationship with God is the same. In pursuing our own righteousness (artificial light in the story above), we can clean up some of the mess. We will even appear clean within that environment, but the minute that we step outside, God reveals all the ways in which we have pursued happiness through insufficient and counterproductive means (John 3:19-21). This is not something to be feared, but it is the path to becoming more Christ-like.
Going back to the original quote, in what ways have we closed the curtains on God? Have we closed the curtain of our own righteousness? Have we closed the curtain of perfect knowledge? Have we closed the curtain of spiritual superiority like some in Jesus’ day? Or like in the example above, what sort of light sources have we installed that could never match the brilliance of the sun, and, in doing so, have hampered our ability to properly clean what needs to be cleaned?
Stop resisting “a rest” and accept the gift of reconciliation. And, yes, I know that 99% of the people that read this are already Christian, and that is exactly the point. I speak from experience: we are experts at putting up curtains for ourselves and those around us.
Note: I’m familiar with all the passages about running the race. There are many metaphors for our relationship with God. This article just explores one.