The Return Home
After spending hours in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia staring and reflecting on Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son," the renowned author, and theologian Henri Nouwen wrote one of his most beloved works, borrowing directly from Rembrandt's masterpiece.
In his The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen wrestles with the doubts that he feels over the nature of God's grace, and whether or not that grace is conditional:
Although claiming my true identity as a child of God, I still live as though the God to whom I am returning demands an explanation. I still think about his love as conditional and about home as a place I am not yet fully sure of. While walking home, I keep entertaining doubts about whether I will be truly welcome when I get there.
I resonate with this because, like most of us, I am pretty discriminate when offering grace to others, so it seems to me that God might just operate the same way.
And listen, I'm giving myself and everyone else a break on this because it's hard to love and forgive some people, especially when they refuse to admit they've done anything that merits our forgiving them.
There's also not a lot of grace in my system for people who stand in line at a fast food counter, staring at the menu for minutes, and then aren't prepared to order when they get to the cashier.
I'm always behind that person, and they get no grace.
You see, I'm discriminate when it comes to the grace I offer because it's conditional. Almost every person operates this way, no matter how hard they try not to. This is why it's so hard for us to believe that God doesn't work the same exact way.
And so, like Nouwen when we find ourselves lost and feeling far from God, we start wondering if God will welcome us home if we start the journey back.
Some of us never really feel like we'll get there. The terrible theology of conditional grace that is such a massive part of the dominant forms of Christianity in our world has taught us this and ingrained it into our heads and hearts.
But nothing could be further from the truth. This is what Nouwen discovered during his hours of reflection. God always welcomes us home because, in fact, we never really left.
God goes with us on our journeys---even the ones we think are taking us far from God. And God's grace is always upon us, even when we believe it couldn't possibly be. This is how God works---unconditional grace, unmerited mercy, and radical love.
May your journey home to God be filled with joy and expectation. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.