“I’m too far gone from God to make it back.”
I’ve heard a number of versions of that statement, from folks who think their mistakes are too momentous, or perhaps too unique, to be overcome by God’s grace.
Hearing this always makes me feel sad, and a feeling of urgency washes over me to love and hold onto that person. Because I know how they feel.
Fact is, there was a time in my life when I believed this about myself. After being medically retired from the Navy, after the opening stage of the war in Iraq, followed by divorce, I sank into a deep, dark place from which I didn’t think there was a way out.
A loving family, a loving church, and above all, the compassionate, patient love of Tammy, who against all odds started dating me in this period, helped lead me back to the love of God.
That took a lot of work. And perhaps the hardest work of all, the step that seemed the most insurmountable, was to simply embrace the fact that God could love me in all my flaws, and in spite of all I’d done.
In our psalm for today, Psalm 103, we find David on the positive end of this transformation — at the point in our Gospel reading when the prodigal son is embraced by a loving father, who has forgiven all transgressions before forgiveness is requested.
We find David at the point of the loving father’s embrace: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.”
It’s reassuring to see David, like the prodigal son, run into the arms of our loving God — into the light of freely-offered and immutable grace.
But, for those in the midst of the darkness — the prodigal son still wallowing in the pig sty — this scene can leave us feeling forlorn. From the pig sty, it’s hard to imagine making it to the feast.
David comes to this point of celebration in Psalm 103, though, only after clawing himself back out of the pit. Like the prodigal son, he must climb out of the muck, humble himself, and turn his feet toward his Father.
The precursor to David’s praise of God’s mercy in Psalm 103 is the darkest pit of David’s life, in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
At this point, David has just been caught up in all the sin of having lusted after Bathsheba, wife of one of his faithful lieutenants, Uriah; then slept with her and got her pregnant; then conspired to have Uriah killed to cover up his adultery.
The first time I really thought about that passage in 2 Samuel, I was in church as an adult. I left church that day saying to myself: “David was truly horrible. Why would God forgive him?”
I was judging David. I was judging God. And I judged myself. And in those scales, David would never be worthy. And neither would I. And neither would anyone else.
But, God does not judge as we judge. God offers grace that makes no sense in the eyes of this world. God loves with the love of a father who runs to meet the prodigal son. God loves with a love that responds to David’s horrific acts with the words of the prophet Nathan: “The Lord has taken away your sin.”
I still struggle when I encounter someone who feels they’ve fallen too far away from God to be forgiven.
I want to grab ahold of them, and take away their guilt and make them see they’re a child of God, loved by God — loved passionately by God who waits with eternal patience for them to turn, and accept Her loving embrace.
But, I cannot force them to be ready for that. All I can do is follow Christ’s commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
That is all any of us can do. And it is all any of us must do. Love. Love passionately. Love nonsensically. Love like the prodigal son’s father. And love yourself enough to run into His arms.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, help us to search within ourselves for any barriers of fear, pride or anger that keep us from running to your arms. Help us to turn from our eyes of pride, through which we may not be able to see a path to forgiveness. Let us see that path in the eyes of the Spirit, and know that we are your children, made in your image, ever able to come to you, to lay down any burden that is afflicting us, and to be healed through the grace of your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.