One spring day, I played with my two-year-old grandson in the backyard. When a noise caught his attention, the little boy turned toward the street.
“Get back here,” I called. “You are naughty and going immediately into time out for the rest of your life. Now, think about what you’ve done, and how you will fix it!”
Are you scandalized by my response? Understandable. But how often do we think God responds to our choices and messes in this angry fashion? Of course, I did not speak those soul-wounding words. I came alongside as he toddled in an unsafe direction.
“Hey, buddy,” I said gently. “Let’s go back where you are safe.” He turned into my arms, I scooped him up, and in that instant, he was safe. Cuddling this sweet bundle of boy, I carried him to his favorite toys in the protected yard where he connected and belonged, and we laughed and played.
When my child explores beyond safe boundaries, makes unwise choices, and disobeys, I don’t demand she grovel, do penance, or humiliate herself to satisfy my displeasure. But I am overjoyed when she hears my voice and turns into my embrace. Then I carry her to safety.
I have new appreciation for how easily God offers to reconcile our relationship compared to how I thought the process worked. Somehow, I believed asking God to forgive me included groveling and muscling myself into alignment with God’s perfect will. I thought I had to prove authentic sorrow and sincere desire for forgiveness. But forgiveness is something so free and inviting, I can’t wait to repent.
Luke 23:32–34, 39-43 describes, “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
To receive forgiveness and eternal life, the thief on the cross did not get baptized, take communion, do good deeds, grovel, or clean the mess he made that resulted in his brutal crucifixion. Like my grandson, he simply turned into Jesus’ outstretched arms. In that instant, the thief was secure. For eternity.
Where I Belong
Like me, have you ever wandered off, stomped off in anger, drifted away in heartbreak, and become lost from relationship with God? When I’ve made a mess of my choices, my life, my relationships, and with God, there is no way I can fix or even polish my problems. I can’t find my way back on track to God.
Nor do I need to. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Restoration is a simple turn away. Knowing I am incapable of securing salvation, God is always near with arms open in invitation and welcome. Like my grandson, who simply turned into my hug, I repent by turning into God’s embrace. My gracious Savior already did the work of reconciliation and cleanup on the cross. Immediately, I receive God’s gift of grace, security, and unconditional love.
I will never be perfect. My mistakes are myriad. No matter whether my poor choices are intentional or not, God does not require that I grovel, do penance, or humiliate myself to prove my authentic sorrow and sincere desire for forgiveness. Like a child who knows he is loved by the important people in his life, I can rest in the assurance that I am cherished by my Creator. This simple confidence is the foundation to trust, the key to abundance, and the joy of peace. God stretched out his arms and invited us into relationship with him where we are loved. Safe in his arms is where I belong. For eternity.