I am currently pursuing a better understanding of grace. I am not very good at receiving grace, nor am I good at showing grace to those I love. This pursuit led me to the Doctor of Grace, Brennan Manning, and his Ragamuffin Gospel. This was a popular book back when I was in college and law school, but I never read it then. At that point in my life, I did not associate myself with the likes of the Ragamuffin. I was on a path to success and though I might have the occasional Ragamuffin reflexive twitch, mainly with regard to my music pursuit or sexual desires, I never tarried for long. Therefore, I was sure this book was not for me.
Fast forward 20 years and I am quite scarred from life, the reality of this fallen world and the blackness of my soul. Something brought this book to my attention again and I began to see indications that I was to read it. My father, far from an admitted Ragamuffin, expressed how much he enjoyed the Rich Mullins story, Ragamuffin, on Netflix. Then I knew I had to move this to the top of my reading list. I started by watching the movie, which is not an adaptation of the book, but the story of Rich Mullins, who was discipled by Brennan Manning. I admit, I was expecting the typical cheesy Christian, Lifetime, made for TV, low budget film with horrible acting. Wow, was I pleasantly surprised.
The movie was very well done and was convicting and gripping. It was timely for someone like myself who has such a difficulty understanding and embracing grace. The movie did not shy away from Rich’s demons and it included real language and struggles, which are often missing from Christian films. For the first time in a long time, I found myself crying at the end of this movie while I drifted off to sleep. I was trying to identify my reason for crying. It wasn’t that I was sad for Rich’s death. While his death was tragic, I would not have normally cried about such in a movie.
I was crying because I desperately wanted to have a relationship with God that was free from my works and from my preconceived conservative western notions of how God communicates with me. I wanted to find my worth in God’s love for me. I wanted to feel this love. I truly wanted the same thing that Rich wanted. However, I have spent most of my life pursuing a physical scorecard:
If I truly want to find my worth in God’s love for me, why do I spend the time I have been given pursuing these other results? So what does this have to do with Abraham and Isaac? Well, I had no idea either until this morning while listening to the Ragamuffin Gospel on the way to work. Thank you Audible for providing an outlet for a reader who cannot seem to sit long enough to finish a book.
Brennan Manning tells the story of a pastor teaching on Genesis 22, Abraham’s assent up Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son, Isaac. I have always HATED this story. I have never HATED it as much as I have since having a son. I cannot stand to think that I worship a God who would demand this of someone in order to demonstrate loyalty to him. Therefore, I was interested as to how this story was going to be used to show us grace.
The pastor offered some historical background on the prevalence of child sacrifice during this time. The pastor then asked what the story meant to the members of his congregation. One middle aged man spoke up and indicated that it meant that he and his family would be looking for another church. I expected that this man’s disdain for the story would be similar to mine. However, I was surprised to hear him say this: “when I look at that God, the God of Abraham, I feel I’m near a real God, not the sort of dignified, businesslike, Rotary Club God we chatter about here on Sunday mornings. Abraham’s God could blow a man to bits, give and then take a child, ask for everything form a person, and then want more. I want to know that God.”
What? Why would I want to know a God that wanted more than I could possibly give? This is not what I was expecting out of a book that was supposed to be remedying my pursuit of works. Then Brennan goes on to say that the child of God knows that the graced life calls him or her to live on a cold and windy mountain, not on the flattened plain of reasonable, middle-of-the-road religion. This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God, who out of love for us, sent His only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross and died whispering forgiveness on us all.
If God is going to be a God of radical grace, then his demands must be equally as radical. He knows that we cannot meet his demands, but his grace is sufficient to cover our failures. Our failures leave room for us to experience God’s love and grace. I think of how I respond to my son’s failures. I only ask that he try, not that he succeed. Oh that he would find his sufficiency in his trying as I do. Oh that we would find our sufficiency in trying as God does.
In The Geography of Bliss: One grumps search for the happiest places in the world by Eric Weiner, he explores why Iceland is one of the happiest places on earth. He explains that Icelanders’ embracing of failure, what we in America would see as a negative, is one their foundations for happiness. Their embracing of failure allows them to more freely try new things. Would we not encourage our children to try new things and show them grace when they fail at them? Would these efforts not bring us joy as parents? Why then would our heavenly father not show us at least this same grace and experience at least this joy? Of course he would and He does. We are created in His image, you know. So why can I not embrace His grace as sufficient and find my worth there and not in the lack of grace I receive from this world? Why can I as a believer not exhibit this type of grace to myself as well as to my brothers and sisters in Christ?