Over the last few months, I’ve returned occasionally to read a few more pages in The Ragamuffin Gospel. For some reason, I have not found it to be one of those books that I can’t put down…
Written in 1990 by Brennan Manning, it reflects the findings of a Franciscan Priest who discovered in his own alcoholism the Father every child needs. In Manning’s words,
“Along the way I opted for slavery and lost the desire for freedom. I loved my captivity and imprisoned myself in the desire for things I hated. I hardened my heart against true love. I abandoned prayer and took flight from the simple sacredness of my life.”
Yet looking back, the author who has helped so many by his honesty goes on to write, “None of my failures in faithfulness have proved terminal. Again and again radical grace has gripped me in the depths of my being, brought me to accept ownership of my infidelities, and led me back to the fifth step of the AA program: “Acknowledge to God, another human being, and myself the exact nature of my wrongdoing.” The forgiveness of God is gratuitous liberation from guilt. Paradoxically, the conviction of personal sinfulness becomes the occasion of encounter with the merciful love of the redeeming God.”
By reflecting on his own struggles in light of Jesus’ life-saving story of “The Prodigal Son”, Manning, explores again and again the wonder in which he says things like,
“When Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic, some scribes thought to themselves, “Who but God can forgive sins?” (Mark 2:7). How enlightened they were in their blindness! Only God knows how to pardon. Our clumsy human attempts at forgiveness often create more problems than they solve. In condescending fashion we crush and humiliate the sinner with our unbearable largesse. He may feel forgiven but utterly bereft of reassurance, consolation, and encouragement. Only God knows how to pardon and put all four together. The prodigal’s father said, in effect, “Hush, child. I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to.”
Maybe thoughts like that cause me to keep putting the book down… and wondering at what point such characterizations of the grace and love of God… are too good to be true.