I came from a background in Christianity that emphasized salvation as a matter of justice, of the meeting of divine requirements. Coupled with this was some creeping Pelagianism, which left a contradictory and crippled spiritual life: on the one hand intellectually conscious of the inability of any of us to effect our ultimate salvation, but on the other hand existentially aware of the concomitant ability to lose it at any moment. Add in a dash of biblical hermeneutics that conscientiously did not reach back before the present day, and one was left with a hellish reversal of revivalist altar calls: instead of being saved in a moment, one could be lost at any other. Always there was the divine ledger, and though we were fiercely anti-papal, the odor of merits hung over all. And if God was a Father, he was the sort that was distant, only getting involved in matters of discipline, and doling out favors according to some formula of worthiness that could not be calculated in human terms.
But I have come to see things much differently, thank God. It has been a slow process, involving regular worship in the Divine Liturgy where one hears that God is good and loves mankind, the painful consequences of personal life circumstances, and through those circumstances the clearest realization of my own sins that I have yet come to. There is surely an even greater clarity to come, but this much is what I can endure at this time. But the key to this all is the reward, at last, after four decades of life, to come to truly and to really believe, to know in my heart: God is love. He is all love. I am faced with things which I long feared, and still hope even now do not fully come to pass, things that without melodrama one could describe as ruinous. And yet, I have been given this great and wonderful gift to at last begin–and only to begin–to see that God is good, and that he is love.
It is a costly thing to have come to, and I suspect there is more to be paid. And it is not as though the tears no longer come. Indeed, they come in greater measure than before. There is much, after all, to regret, and sometimes the penances life brings are quite burdensome. But I have been given a gift to finally know, if only the littlest bit, of what it means to say, “God is love.” If perfect love casts out fear, then the fact that the struggle with fears still remains surely means I do not yet know perfect love. But the fears have lost their bite. They no longer sting so much. And, ultimately, even if–or when–they are finally realized in my daily existence, I can at least recall these days, today, and remember, God is love, and that love is full and complete goodness.
Surely all my faults and sins remain. But I know them more clearly now. And I know better what I must do to fight against them. If it please God, some of my fears may not yet come to pass, and he will grant me to fulfill my repentance in more direct ways.
But this glimpse of his goodness and his love is still powerful and pervasive. One can sense in these things the connection of loves, the choir that is prayer, and the beauty that surrounds us all. I cannot adequately express how, by way of one example, much more precious is the glimpse of sunlight in our daughters’ hair, the trill of their laughter, and the tenderness of their embraces. So many more things become every more beautiful and treasured. In such goodness and love, one is given back one’s life and dreams and hopes–even if these ultimately do not materialize, because we still live in a world in which people have freedom to choose other acts and ends–and such a gift puts underneath one the solid foundation of hope. If God is such goodness and love, then in all things, in all his providence, we will find mercy and peace and healing. No matter what.