One of the Christian authors who has been the most help for me in my journey during the last ten years has been psychologist, David Benner. He has opened my spiritual eyes to aspects of the Christian life that I never fully grasped. His insights, especially into knowing the the love of God has been life changing. I would like to introduce you to an insight of Dr Benner’s that has been very helpful for me. It concerns the nature of sin. As he says, “perhaps we need to do a better job unpacking the meaning of this idea of sin.” What he proposes is not a redefinition of sin, but rather changing the focus of the problem of sin, for sin is still rebellion and estrangement from God.
He refers to St Ignatius, who reframed the issue of sin as less an act of rebellion and more “the consequence of not knowing and deeply trusting the love of God.” He also refers to Julian of Norwich as suggesting that sin is really spiritual blindness, failing to see the “extravagent love of our Beloved.” Learning to trust the love of God by simply learning to receive God’s love has been very significant for me. It is that simple, yet difficult to practice – I am to receive the love of God. There is no effort involved on my part. I don’t have to earn one thing. I quote Brennan Manning often on the love of God when he said, “God loves you not as you should be but just as you are.” That has been a revelatory word for me.
Benner unpacks the thought of St. Ignatius and Julian by making the assumption that at the very heart of being created in the image of God, is the longing to surrender ourselves, fully and completely to God. We were create for intimate fellowship with God. Paul refered to this truth when I was preaching to unbelievers in Athens, “For in him we live and move and exist.” If a person allows him or herself to listen deeply and attentively, that person will become aware of a deep hunger for God. We are meant to know and experience the love of God in a deep heartfelt way. This would be beyond reason and understanding. It boils down to trust. Do I really trust that God love me irregardless of my behavior or belief.
Could it be wonders Benner that the reason we hold back from surrendering to the invitiation of intimacy and union with God has to do with sin. Not so much of rebellion, but a doubt or lack of awareness concerning the love of God. Is there a part of our heart that just does not want to believe that God in his love for us wants our total happiness and fulfillment. To really search this out in our own heart, we have to as men allow ourselves to be quiet and open to the Spirit of God. As we do we will begin to understand the depth of our longing for God. Benner points out that, “all longings point to the secret places of the depth of our heart toward God.” He challenges us to “face squarely our resistence to this longing and the letting go that it invites.”
I know for myself that I have found my journey in Christ to be much more joyful and fulfilling as I have learned to receive God’s love. I am more my true self. I am able to live with my faults. I live with less shame and self-hatred. When I contemplate my longing for God as my deepest longing, and desire to follow that desire, I can better prioritize the demands and tugs on my life. It is what the spiritual tradition calls “setting love in order.” For years I did not understand what this phrase meant. Now I understand it to mean, that I am to pay attention to my deepest longing, surrendering to that longing as best I can in the present moment. I sincerely pray for each man who reads this blog, the joy of “being able to receive the love of The Father.”