Finding Our Way Back to God

I’m telling you it’ll be just like this in heaven: there’ll be more celebrating over one sinner who has a change of heart than over ninety-nine virtuous people who have no need to change their hearts.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
(Luke 15: 7, 21b – 23, NRSV)

During our last meeting in the prison, one man shared that he believed that sin separated us from God. His sense was that when someone did something wrong he or she needed to do something to return to God’s favor. While I believe God never leaves anyone, we sometimes need to find our way back to God.

Another man shared that the assigned reading had conveyed to him that God would forgive him for what he’d done. He hadn’t known that God would forgive him. He had believed “an eye for an eye,” that what he’d done to someone else should be done to him. Finding out that God would forgive him was allowing him to consider forgiving himself.

I believe that part of the reason why the men I pray with have committed crimes is because someone mistreated them as children. Like them, whether we have committed a crime or not, most of us need to forgive our parents. I don’t think many natural parents care for their children as they should. I don’t think it’s intentional. I believe it’s because they didn’t have what we needed and so couldn’t give it to us.

Given our experience of material reality, many of us are afraid to trust our supernatural parent. Trusting God is particularly challenging for those of us who have been neglected, abused and/or cast out. If our conscious experience has been shaped by harmful rather than beneficial relationships, we have a more difficult time believing that the creator of all reality, material and otherwise, is truly loving.

Perhaps this is why there is so much celebration in heaven when a person who has lived foolishly or has hurt others returns to God. That person has likely had to dig into the depths of their conscious experience and then go beyond it. They have had to risk re-living the shame and rejection experienced during their childhood to trust that there is another possibility, a chance to live in God’s eternal house. Through their diligence, this courageous person breaks the chain of violence, the chain of trauma and neglect, and comes to learn that spiritual reality is real and that hope is rightfully grounded in faith.

I believe that this One, the God that Jesus called Abba, loves us, especially those of us who received less care than we needed. This is the God I choose. This God waits for, calls for and is most joyous about our return.

Manna for Future Generations

According to my New Oxford Annotated Bible, the word manna is derived from the Hebrew man hu. “Man hu?” was the question that the Hebrew people asked when they saw flaky white stuff laying around them, all over the ground. “What is it?” they asked. I believe the answer was man na. “It is what it is.”

This question and answer reminds me of the dialog between Moses and God when Moses asks God what he should say when the people ask for the name of the God who reportedly is going to save them. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:13)

In both of these situation, the answer is a restatement of the question. What is it? It is what it is. Who are you? I am who I am.

Later, after God has been provided water and food for the people in the wilderness, we learn that God has commanded that an omer of manna be saved in a jar. (An omer is about eight cups or a half gallon.)

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” (Exodus 16:32)

The manna is being stored so future generations will trust in this God who has recently rescued and provided for them. Like a good leader, Moses does what he’s told; he tells Aaron to do what God asks. And Aaron, like a good priest, does what he’s told. He puts the manna in a jar and puts the jar in a sacred place.

And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept through out your generations.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. (Exodus 16:33-34)

Then the story fast forwards. The Bible tells us that the Israelites made it, by living on manna, to the Promised Land.

The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Exodus 16:35)

As contemporary people who are attempting to follow this God, a God whose primary occupation is to rescue the oppressed, this story provides us with sustenance for our journey. It suggests that God knows we can’t just believe what we’re told. We’re too fickle for that. We need evidence for ourselves.

At first, I thought that stories of early Friends was today’s manna. Our knowledge of their words and actions help us to know what it is like when God enters into history. The documents that they left behind demonstrate that God is not only an eternal presence but also lives and acts in time, through the lives of the faithful.

But, like the Israelites who learned about God through their ancestors’ stories, we need to have evidence for ourselves. The stories of early Friends are not enough. We need to see and feel manna. We need to personally experience God’s rescue and on-going guidance.

We don’t have physical jars of manna, but we have this story. This story urges us to enter into the tabernacle and stand in the power of the covenant, believing that God means for us to be God’s special people. Via our hearts, we will plunge a hand into that jar full of manna and physically experience God’s mercy and power. Later, when we leave the tent (although we will probably need to return many times), we will see God’s provision all around… manna as far as our eyes can see.

Who is this God? This God Is. This God is Being Yearning For Us, a God who comes to rescue us from non-Being and non-Yearning, from non-Fullness-of-Life. May we embrace the yoke that Jesus holds out to us. By joining in Christ’s on-going redemption of the world, we join God where God is and participate in God’s action in time.

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This post is fifth in a series. This series explores how we might leave Egypt –the American Empire and travel to the Promised Land—the Beloved Community of All Peoples where peace and plenty prevail. (The previous posts include Becoming a Wilderness People, The God of our Fathers, Water in the Wilderness, and Wafers made with Honey.)

God is Already Here

Jesus revealed to the people, with stories the Romans couldn’t understand,
The empire of God is already here.
He was crucified.

Using rhetoric to defy convention, Paul challenged Gentile Jews,
Trust like the Anointed did; neither circumcision nor patronage ensures God’s favor.
He was martyred. Continue reading