When I was a child, I recall sitting in the sanctuary of our beautiful, Gothic styled, Lutheran church. The stained glass windows depicted various scenes from the Bible. The ceiling had paintings of angels and above the altar was a statue of Jesus ascending into heaven. The altar itself was white, trimmed with gold leaf. The lectern was decorated in the same white and gold. The pulpit was raised above the floor, requiring the pastor to ascend several stairs as he went to deliver the sermon – a traditional placement for the message of the day.
There were so many places for little eyes to wander and absorb all the beauty and majesty of being in God’s house and His presence. Being up so high, allowed the pastor a bird’s eye view of all those he was speaking to. In fact he stopped in the middle of his sermon one day to reprimand two children who weren’t adequately paying attention. That short, little fellow’s voice boomed like the voice of God Himself and for a long time, I viewed God as an angry father figure – one who spewed out the message of death and damnation for half an hour and concluded by almost whispering, “But, by the grace of God, you are saved.” Unfortunately those words of hope weren’t even heard as I wallowed in my sinfulness and sureness that I was going to hell.
Truly, it took most of my young life for me to get it. Though I attended a Christian grade school and high school, I felt there was no hope for me. The memory of that early experience led me to believe that I was on a fast train to damnation and an eternity in the pits of hell. I felt the eyes of God on me every moment. I knew He was capable of being in all places at all times. He knew my deepest thoughts. He would certainly condemn me simply for them.
When I think back on those years, I feel sad that I had such a limited view of God. I didn’t understand the depths of His love, His patience and tolerance nor the grace He so blessedly bestowed upon me, a sinner. So often, we beat ourselves up with this kind of thinking. We feel unworthy. We struggle with guilt. We succumb to the wiles of the devil and all his wicked ways – of which he has an abundance.
When we feel alone – when we struggle through relationships – when we can’t forgive ourselves for the evil we think or do – we naturally give in to depression and low self worth. The Old Testament is filled with stories of people just like that. People who knew they were doing wrong. They knew they couldn’t live up to God’s expectations. They dwelt on their problems and felt consumed by them. They’d come to the end of their rope – knew they couldn’t pay for their mistakes – felt hopeless.
Still in the quietness of the night, God whispered His forgiveness to them. He didn’t use His most powerful voice. He whispered. We need to be open to hearing that wonderful message. Even when we are at what seems the lowest point in life, He can be heard. His Word gives us the clear message of forgiveness – not something we earn or merit, but a free gift given from God Himself. Because of God’s great love and passion for us, we’ve been restored to Him. When we finally hear His whisper to us – eternal life in paradise awaits.