I confess. I am a TV junkie. I spend a large part of my free time watching television programs. Recently I started re-watching The Waltons, a 1970’s series about a depression-era family living in rural Virginia. I admit when I watched it as a teenager and young adult, I thought it was a bit corny. Life was too perfect, the children were almost too good to be true and problems were solved in an hour’s time. Yet something kept me watching every week for ten years.
Now when I watch it, I see something different. What changed? Well, besides a few years (OK, decades) passing, what changed the most was my understanding and image of God. A song by Ryan Stevenson titled No Matter What might explain what I mean. The song struck me the first time I heard it because it perfectly described where I was stuck in my faith journey for so many years. The song begins like this:
A lot of us grew up believing
At any moment we could lose it all
And at the drop of a hat
God might turn His back and move on
A lot of us feel like we blew it
Thinking that we’re just too far gone
With that mindset, mercy and compassion were fantasies, unconditional love was unrealistic and “happily ever after” seemed corny. Back then I could not see what I see more easily now – the love of God reflected in the relationships between the characters, the mercy of God in a parent’s embrace of an errant child, the blessings of God in the bounty of the land, the strength of God to get through the tough times, the hospitality of God toward friends and strangers alike. As the song goes on to say:
No matter what you’ve done
You can’t erase His love
Nothing can change it
You’re not separated
No matter what
This should not have come as news to me. St. Paul says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999), an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, said something similar: “We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this ‘uncreated spark in the soul’ remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.”
It is very comforting to know that God loves me no matter what, especially when I make mistakes or feel like I have failed. It gives me a sense of peace I lacked for many years and has lessened the sense of impending doom I lived with most of my life. And that is a blessing.
The challenge is to realize I am not the only one – God loves everyone, no matter what. God loves those who frustrate me, those who irritate me, those who think or believe differently than I do, those I disagree with, even those who hurt me. It is in those moments I need to remember God loves everyone, and God invites me to love them, too. It is seldom easy, but it is easier than it used to be. I can only hope to keep growing in the awareness and trust that God will help me to love as unconditionally as God does.