The Ragamuffin Gospel changed the way I think of God’s love.
For someone who has been a Christian as long as I have, and for someone who clings as heavily as I do to my Reformed theology, that’s saying something. But this book put a big ol’ spotlight on my “doctrine” and showed me just how works-based my faith is. Again, that’s saying something.
I’m not sure why it took me so many years to read it – it is far from a new book. In fact, in just a few more years, it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary. I guess I’ve heard about it a time or two, but it wasn’t until it started popping up quite regularly on one of my favorite bookish podcasts that I made a point of picking it up. I am so very glad I did.
It will be impossible to adequately convey all that my soul gleaned from Manning’s words, but here are a few ideas:
Guilt over sin. The guilt I feel over sin because I think God is disappointed in me, when the truth is, God knows my state and doesn’t expect more of me. Because of His love. In fact, the flip side would mean that when I think I’ve done something good, it earns His favor. It doesn’t. My “good deeds” are filthy rags. They don’t matter. Because of His love. Manning writes as if from God: “I expect more failure from you than you expect from yourself.”
This is His grace – “that he loves us as we are and not as we should be.”
His love transcends understanding. For years I’ve used the “His justice transcends understanding” argument to deflect many things. But I’ve always I thought I “got” His love. Because it’s like my love, right? Wrong. His love is unfathomable, too. I have no idea what perfect love is except as a reflection of God.
I will never read the story of the prodigal son the same again. Probably the most common sermon source in all of Christianity was made new for me. How forgiveness proceeded repentance. “While he was still a long way off…” (Luke 15:30)
Abba just wants us to show up. We don’t have to tarry at the tavern until purity of heart arrives. We don’t have to be shredded with sorrow or crushed with contrition. We don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us. We don’t have to wallow in guilt, shame, remorse, and self-condemnation. Even if we still nurse a secret nostalgia for the far country, Abba falls on our neck and kisses us.
If all this sounds trite, if it all is truth that you’ve known for years, then be grateful. But something about the way it was framed in this book, something about the season of life that I’m in, made this truth new and real as it never has been to me before:
The secret of the mystery is, God is always greater. No matter how great we think Him to be, His love is always greater.
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