Forgiving and Excusing

I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different.  I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me.  But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing.  Forgiveness says, “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.”  But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.”  If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive.  In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites….

A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it [forgiveness], from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favour.  But that would not be forgiveness at all.  Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.  That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.

— C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, quoted in A Year with C. S. Lewis, edited by Patricia S. Klein, p. 263-264

Care and Protection

But a person with a shattered life . . . doesn’t first need Christ to forgive her or to forgive through her.  Before anything else, she needs Christ to cradle her, to nurse her with the milk of divine love, to hold her in his arms like an inestimable gem, to sing her songs of gentle care and firm protection, and to restore her to herself as a beloved and treasured being.

And that’s what Christ does.

— Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, p. 206

Making Sense

Could it be that our lives actually make sense, every part — the good and the bad?  Those deep yearnings that catch us by surprise when we hear a certain song on the radio, or watch our children when they aren’t aware of being watched, are telling us something that is  truer about life than the Message of the Arrows.  It seems too good to be true, which ought to raise even deeper suspicions that it is true.  As Chesterton recounts in Orthodoxy, he “had always believed that the world involved magic:  now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. . . .  I had always felt life first as a story; and if there is a story there is a storyteller.”

— Brent Curtis and John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, p. 44-45


All parents of teenagers are besieged with setting limits, negotiating guidelines, and generally looking out for the well-being of their children.  This is hard work.  Worse, if the above becomes the focus of your relationship with your teenager, you will not have the influence you desire.  Quite simply, the stronger your connection, the more influence you have with your teenager.  When you pay the same attention to your connection as you do to limits and guidelines, everything becomes easier and more effective.  But it takes work and creativity to foster this connection, most of it yours….

In short, connections matter, and the best way to teach this to your teenager is through your connection to each other during these tough adolescent years.  After all, one lesson you want your teenager to learn and carry forward into the rest of his or her life is that relationships and connections matter.  People on their deathbeds don’t wish they had worked more; instead, most people wish they had loved more.  This really means they wish they had learned to love and to stay connected when relationships became complicated and tough.  And adolescence is about as tough as it gets, so staying connected now is the best training you will ever have or need.

— Michael Riera, PhD, Staying Connected to Your Teenager, p. 260

Hidden Joys

God rejoices.  Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness.  No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.  What I am called to is to enter into that joy.  It is God’s joy, not the joy that the world offers.  It is the joy that comes from seeing a child walk home amid all the destruction, devastation, and anguish of the world. . . .

I am not accustomed to rejoicing in things that are small, hidden, and scarcely noticed by the people around me.  I am generally ready and prepared to receive bad news, to read about wars, violence, and crimes, and to witness conflict and disarray.  I always expect my visitors to talk about their problems and pain, their setbacks and disappointments, their depressions and their anguish.  Somehow I have become accustomed to living with sadness, and so have lost the eyes to see the joy and the ears to hear the gladness that belongs to God and which is to be found in the hidden corners of the world.

Henri J. M. Nouwen — The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 114-115

Suspect God.

If I told anybody what I sensed might be happening here, they’d laugh.

So let them laugh.  Finding God in the ordinary is a way of seeing the world.  It’s a willingness to suspect God when no other fingerprints match.  When we encounter the sublime, terrible, inexplicable, we can stop silent in our tracks and whisper the words of Jacob as he awoke from his ladder dream:  “Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it.”   Or we can shrug it off as a weird coincidence.

— David Anderson, Breakfast Epiphanies, p. 153

Strong Views of God’s Love

What makes us universalists is not that we have unusually weak views of sin but unusually strong views of divine love and grace.  Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.

I have argued that eternal conscious torment is not a just response to sin; and in the eyes of some, this amounts to an underestimate of the severity of sin. . . .  However, just because I do not think that a sin incurs infinite demerit, it does not follow that I deny it incurs very serious demerit. . . .

For the universalist, hell is something to be avoided at all costs, just as Jesus warned us.  To object by saying, “Well, if hell is not forever, it doesn’t really matter if someone has a spell there,” is like suggesting that because you will recover from the long and painful illness, it isn’t worth taking precautions to avoid it.  It is like telling an Old Testament prophet not to bother warning Israel to repent, because God will always restore them after the judgment anyway.  The prophet would reply that it is better to avoid the judgment in this first place, and the prophet is surely correct.  I wonder if I could pose a counter-question to our critics:  “Is it perhaps you who fail to take God’s love and grace as seriously as it deserves?”

It seems to me that the only major Christian doctrine threatened by universalism is the teaching that those in hell have passed beyond the point of no return; and, as this belief is quite detachable from the web of Christian belief without doing any damage to the rest of the web, I can only conclude that, although it is a widely held doctrine, it is peripheral in its structural role in Christian theology.  I can be removed and replaced without doing harm to Christian theology.  Indeed, if I am right, once we remove and replace it with a universalist view of hell, we have a much more coherent web of beliefs than we had before.

— Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, p. 165-167

The Father’s Heart

The heart of the father burns with an immense desire to bring his children home. . . .

God, creator of heaven and earth, has chosen to be, first and foremost, a Father.

As Father, he wants his children to be free, free to love.  That freedom includes the possibility of their leaving home, going to a “distant country,” and losing everything.  The Father’s heart knows all the pain that will come from that choice, but his love makes him powerless to prevent it.  As Father, he desires that those who stay at home enjoy his presence and experience his affection.  But here again, he wants only to offer a love that can be freely received.  He suffers beyond telling when his children honor him only with lip service, while their hearts are far from him.  He knows their “deceitful tongues” and “disloyal hearts,” but he cannot make them love him without losing his true fatherhood.

As Father, the only authority he claims for himself is the authority of compassion.  That authority comes from letting the sins of his children pierce his heart.  There is no lust, greed, anger, resentment, jealousy, or vengeance in his lost children that has not caused immense grief to his heart.  The grief is so deep because the heart is so pure.  From the deep inner place where love embraces all human grief, the Father reaches out to his children.  The touch of his hands, radiating inner light, seeks only to heal.

Here is the God I want to believe in:  a Father who, from the beginning of creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting, never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders.  His only desire is to bless.

— Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 95-96

Joy Is Essential.

Are you beginning to see now how essential joy is?

Because we live in a world at war.  Because the enemy is relentless.  Because we are “hard pressed on every side” (2 Corinthians 4:8).  For these very reasons we need joy.  Lots and lots of joy.  Bucketfuls.  Wagonloads.  Joy can counter the effect of all this unrelenting other stuff.  Without it we’ll get drained from the battle, sucked dry.  We won’t have anything to draw upon.  No inner reserves.  We’ll waste away.  Throw in the towel.  Or we’ll fall into an addiction because we are absolutely starved for joy.

— John Eldredge, Walking With God, p. 114