Recently someone who came across my Top Ten Life Changing Reads mentioned that they also liked C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and I found myself full of nostalgia remembering the first time I ever read it. (Book nerd problems.) It’s an excellent read and full of the sharp wit that is the hallmark of British humor. I was about 19 years old at the time and actually listened to it on tape while I was working on a very monotonous project for my internship and looking for ways to sort of keep my brain alert as I worked. Listening to books out loud is just the best and it gave me much to ponder as I scanned document after document. However, I also remember reading that book and feeling very afraid because I recognized the sins of the protagonist in myself, sins so subtle I had never really noticed them before, and the realization threatened to put a wedge between myself and God, Who I was really beginning to encounter for the first time as an adult that summer.
This worry struck at a weak spot in my faith. I’m not a very trusting person by nature and while I believed God was love I had my doubts. I had read about the love of God and the wrath of God side by side and I was wondering, which one is He? Is His nature love or judgment and how can those two things exist simultaneously?
It was these questions that led me to reading the first book on my “Top Ten Life Changing Reads” list: Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. I had come across that book by accident but never was I more relieved. It truly was a life changer because this book not only showed a more loving side of God, it drew on Br. Lawrence’s prayer of the present moment, the idea that best way to please God is to simply be with Him, to learn to live constantly in His presence. And where is God present? He is the Eternal Being. He lives in the now, in the present moment and within the hearts of His children (and because of Jesus and the new covenant He ushered in, anyone can be a child of God through baptism). If I had not read this book I would probably still approach God with fear (the bad kind) and trembling, never comfortable and never able to be myself because myself is not worthy or good enough. Yet this book convinced me that while it remains perfectly true that I’m unworthy of God, it did not stop God from loving me or wanting to share Himself with me. And the more I sought God’s presence within myself the more I found it and the happier I became.
And while I had to re-read this book several times to get it to stick, it certainly provided an excellent foundation for my current spirituality that I describe a lot on this blog. And that matters. Because most people that meet me think that I’m just happy by default which bothers me because it gives credit where it is not due (to me) and neglects to give credit where it is due (Christ) because the truth in this instance is not politically correct and does not suit the agenda of moral relativism, which suggests that you can find lasting happiness with or without God.
And I guess because it’s the year of mercy I wanted to share that mercy is the key to everything, the answer to those questions I asked that summer before my sophomore year of college. Who is God, love or wrath, and if He is both how can those things exist side by side? It requires an understanding that I did not have at 19, an understanding of what mercy is. While God is a just judge and is perfect, He is also perfect love, and mercy encompasses both of those things. Because mercy is not a denial or rejection of a law, it does not claim that the original law was unjust or that no offense was committed (or that each offense is subjective to circumstance you moral relativists!), but God has a unique capacity for mercy in that even in the midst of sin and offense against Him, He does not waiver for a moment in His perfect love for us. Mercy is where the love of God and the justice of God meet. It is the selfless love in the heart of God that prompted God to pay the price for our sins, by upholding and satisfying the demands of His perfect law Himself that we might receive this mercy and experience the fulfilment of His promise to love His people unconditionally and eternally.
And that is something worth contemplating because I would very much like to have that capacity, to be able to love perfectly in a way that does not shift based on whether or not the person is particularly loveable at any given time. But I think it is mercy that testifies most strongly to my initial idea, and now strong conviction, that God is love and that absolutely nothing can separate us from that love, because sin itself is not strong enough to break the bond. And this realization has been the true building block for everything else.
Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!