“I don’t want harmony, for the love of mankind I don’t want it. I want to remain with unrequited suffering. I’d rather remain with my unrequited suffering and my unquenched indignation, even if I am wrong. Besides, they have put too high a price on harmony; we can’t afford to pay so much for admission. And therefore I hasten to return my ticket. And it is my duty, if only as an honest man,to return it as far ahead of time as possible. Which is what I am doing. It is not that I don’t accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket.” – The Brothers Karamazov
Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. – Psalm 103: 8
Kind and merciful? Really? That can be a tough one to swallow. Look at the world, broken and full of suffering. Look at our own hearts, inclined to great malice as often as great magnanimity. The world is full of challenges, and most of us live our lives under a shadow of dissatisfaction, even if it is only the longing to know a God we can’t see. The one who rules over this we call kind and merciful?
Faith, hope and love are not for the faint of heart. To truly believe what this weekend’s psalm heralds – even if we have to will ourselves into believing it – takes great courage in the face of a suffering world. Even when we are brave enough to proclaim that the Lord is kind and merciful, we are quick to trot out our résumés of pain, so that everyone will know that our willingness to bless God’s name is not naïveté but world-weary hope.
A God who is not gracious would never redeem us, or allow us to redeem ourselves. If God were not love, how could we love each other into wellness, against darkness? Even that ache for communion that drives us mad, even the hope that to the world seems foolish, would be impossible if not for a patient God who loves beyond foolishness.
I’ll risk appearing senseless and jejune and say that I have hope: beauty and redemption have outweighed sorrow in my life, though I’ve had to get creative in tipping the scales. Whether or not I look like a fool, to be honest with the world I need to admit to a belief in God’s goodness that has guided me, even through pain, into merciful love.
“Do not be afraid of anything, never be afraid, and do not grieve. Just let repentance not slacken in you, and God will forgive everything. There is not and cannot be in the whole world such a sin that the Lord will not forgive one who truly repents of it. A man even cannot commit so great a sin as would exhaust God’s boundless love. How could there be a sin that exceeds God’s love? …Believe that God loves you so as you cannot conceive of it; even with your sin and in your sin he loves you….if you love, you already belong to God… With love everything is bought, everything is saved… Love is such a priceless treasure that you can buy the whole world with it, and redeem not only your own but other people’s sins. Go, and do not be afraid.” – The Brothers Karamazov
[I knew it was only a matter of time before I wanted to re-use a title I’d already used on another post. That’s what I get for repeating myself. And for all you BK lovers out there, I’ve always been Team Alyosha.]