If we think about God this way, it's really a catastrophe for our spiritual lives. Why, we ask ourselves, should we pray to or want a relationship with, an All-Perfect God Who would not want to bother with or care about, our messy, confused, suffering daily grind, or a messy, confused world that we hear about daily in horrible news reports?
Of course, God does have all those attributes that I mentioned, but God is so much MORE than all of them! Scripture - which is God's Love Letter to us - tells us that God is, above all, Love and Mercy: God has a heart, especially a heart for the poor and the suffering. In fact, God is closest to those who suffer. God chose to come to us, enfleshed as Jesus, to show us God's Face: a Face of Love and Mercy. "Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity; Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God." (Fr. Richard Rohr.)
Jesus is both Divine and human, but because He is Divine - and Perfect! - that does not mean that Jesus wasn't REALLY human, that He didn't suffer, that his death was a "magic act." Jesus was - and is - like us in all ways except sin. Fr. James Martin says "The person to whom we pray, the man we hope to follow, the one who is risen from the dead, understands us - because he lived a human life, and one that, particularly in his final week, was filled with suffering....We do not relate to a God who is removed from our experiences. We do not pray to a God who does not appreciate the difficulties of our lives." (from Fr. James Martin's latest book "The Seven Last Words of Christ.")
Jesus understands our lives because he experienced our human life, especially during his immense suffering on the cross. He understands us, and yet, because he is Divine - he is Love and Mercy - he teaches us how to follow him so that we can live lives ignited by love and mercy.
Some of Jesus' most challenging words on the cross are the following:
"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."
We may think of people in our own lives who have wounded us or those we love in the most terrible way and say "That's fine for Jesus - but it's impossible for me to forgive!"
But Jesus did not speak these words as Divine Perfection issuing a command from on high. Jesus spoke them while in excruciating pain and while looking at the Roman soldiers who had just brutally nailed him to the cross. Fr. Martin comments:
"If anyone had the right NOT to forgive, it was Jesus. If anyone had the right to lash out in anger, it was Jesus. If anyone had the right to feel unjustly persecuted, it was Jesus. Yet even though the Roman soldiers do not express remorse in front of him. Jesus not only forgives them; he prays for them. Notice that. Jesus says, 'Father, forgive them.' He's praying for them."
Jesus says that the soldiers don't know what they're doing because they don't realize that he is the Son of God. But Jesus also really SEES them - he knows they are more than the one action they are performing. He realizes that they are people making horrible decisions and probably following orders to hold on to their jobs. Because he sees the whole persons, in all their faults, including their faulty, messed-up thinking, and in all that they are capable of being and becoming, - he is able to love and forgive them.
Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of "Dead Man Walking," works extensively with prisoners on Death Row. She has chosen to follow Jesus in trying to see them as whole persons, and says "People are more than the worst thing they've ever done in their lives."
Jesus died for all; his Love and Mercy flow to all who are open to receiving it, who then freely pour it over others. And God actively reaches his children who are open to him in every faith tradition. Mirabai Starr, in her book "God is Love," talks about a young woman, Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jew, who died at the age of twenty-nine, gassed to death at Auschwitz. Etty understood the God of the Hebrew Scriptures as a God of Love and Mercy and found Him powerfully in her prayer life. Mirabai Starr tells us:
"She had unconditionally dedicated her life to alleviating suffering in every being she encountered. In the face of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, she disarmed her heart and poured herself out. 'One should want to be a balm on many wounds,' she wrote in her diary (published as "Diary of An Interrupted Life.") And she was.
"The diary of Etty Hillesum is a testament to spiritual awakening. The more cruel and terrifying the actions of the Nazi authorities grew, the more serene and centered she became....'I draw prayer about me like a dark protective wall,' she writes, 'withdraw inside it as one might a convent cell and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and more collected again.'
"But hers was not a blind faith. She did not harbor any illusions about the mounting horrors being perpetrated on her people. She was dedicated to facing reality with open eyes and embracing it with open arms. Although she was offered multiple opportunities to escape, Etty was determined to share the fate of her people: certain annihilation.....
"Safe in her conviction that the world being brought to its knees by the atrocities of war nevertheless overflows with beauty, Etty resisted the impulse to demonize the Nazis and categorically refused to hate anyone. 'My battles are fought on the inside,' she admits, 'with my own demons.'"
Etty's faith sustained her as she soothed the fears of her people and rekindled their faith as they prepared to step into the gas chambers.
Sometimes our anger can be at an institution: the medical profession, the government, even the Church. I myself, like many women, have felt overwhelmed with anger at the Church because women's gifts are not yet totally accepted and utilized by the Church who is called our mother. My anger reached its peak when Pope Francis was elected by - only men. "The Church is made up of both men AND women!" I raged to myself. "Why do none of us have representation during this most holy event!"
But I recognized that within my anger lay a call from God to pray for my Church. To pray for all the men who represent her, realizing that the spiritual evolution of human beings takes years and that the evolution of an institution can take centuries. To thank God that his Holy Spirit enlivened the Church during the election and that Pope Francis is a gift to the Church, a man who has asked theologians to re-examine the role of women in the church. To believe, even if I cannot always feel it, that God wants me to gaze with love and mercy upon the Church I choose to hold in my heart as my spiritual family. To forgive these men who are both holy and frail, fragile, and flawed, and do not always know what they do to their spiritual sisters.
What if we say that we are too angry, to filled with hate, even the desire for revenge, to be able to forgive? We're right. WE can't. Forgiveness is the work of the Divine, not the work of the human: that's why we're so fascinated with it. Only God can fill our hearts with the strength to forgive. And we have to forgive ourselves, because such violent emotions are part of being human. Anger is a protective instinct. If we haven't been able to protect ourselves or others, it's natural to be overcome with those feelings.
Yet somehow we can still know that the only way to be free - and to free the one who has violated our lives - is to forgive. How can we do this? Fr. Martin tells us that it is enough to HAVE THE DESIRE TO HAVE THE DESIRE TO FORGIVE. Read that again. If we have the desire to have the desire to forgive, God can take it from there. It's enough. He kneels beside us, holding our hands and wiping our tears. With our consent, He prays to the Father for us, in our stead: "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing."