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My son kicked me in the face this week.
Granted, I was trying to change his clothes and get him ready for bed. To an almost four year-old, my offense was egregious and deserving of swift action. As a parent, it was the last straw in a long day. I wish that I could say that my response to his roundhouse sweep of my jaw was gracious. It was not. I raised my voice as violently as he raised his heel. I yelled. He yelled. We both yelled. (I was promptly notified that my nomination for Parent-of-the-Year was rescinded.)
After a few moments and a few deep breaths, my son apologized to me and I to him. And here’s the thing: I wanted to forgive my son. For all my kids do that frustrates me, even those times when they are purposefully defiant, at the end of the day I always want to extend them grace. I’ve found that with my children, my forgiveness isn’t limited. It won’t run out. I don’t want to be stingy like Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to showing my kids mercy. In fact, I delight in forgiving them.
Recently, I came across this fascinating exchange in the Talmud.
Along the same lines, Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yosei: “From where is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays? As it is stated: ‘I will bring them to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in the house of My prayer’ (Isaiah 56:7). The verse does not say the house of their prayer, but rather, ‘the house of My prayer’; from here we see that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays.”
The Gemara asks: “What does God pray?”
Rav Zutra bar Tovia said that Rav said: “God says: ‘May it be My will that My mercy will overcome My anger towards Israel for their transgressions, and may My mercy prevail over My other attributes through which Israel is punished, and may I conduct myself toward My children, Israel, with the attribute of mercy, and may I enter before them beyond the letter of the law.'”
Here we find the rabbis are teaching that God’s prayer is that God’s desire to show mercy and compassion would be greater than God’s wrath and judgement. In other words, God wants to forgive. That impulse in me towards my children in their disobedience finds its source in God. Just as I rejoice and delight when my children apologize and I forgive, so God rejoices in forgiving and God delights in his children.
This echos the lectionary text for today found in Zephaniah:
“He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
God prays that God’s mercy would be greater than God’s judgment. Why? Because God delights in you. You are his beloved child. That’s what the first advent of Christ was all about. The incarnation of Jesus was the divine act embodying the desire of God to show mercy and compassion.
Reflect for a moment on the people who discovered how much God loved them because of Jesus. There are the lowly shepherds out in the fields being invited into the God’s royal birth announcement; the looked down upon fisherman who were invited to be Jesus disciples; the woman of ill-repute who broke an alabaster jar of perfume over Jesus’ feet; the woman caught in adultery; the lepers deemed untouchable; Zacchaeus who was despised by everyone; the Samaritan woman who had five husbands.
Again and again, we find Jesus with the ones who were told they were unlovable, with those who were treated as disposable or scum, with the ones who were thought of as sinners deserving God’s wrath. It was these who encountered God in the flesh and experienced the unimaginable good news: They were the beloved children of God. God delighted in them. God sang over them. They heard the good news that has been echoing through history since Jesus: God hates our sin, but God delights in forgiving more.
Here’s how Martin Luther put it in a Christmas sermon: “For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know and feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart.”
Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for ‘rejoice.’ A day to remember that there is laughter and joy and delight in the heart of the Father because of us, his redeemed children. Let us rejoice!
Nice thought, Nate. Oh that we could be forgiving like God. But then again, maybe we are. Your forgiveness of your son came after you had first expressed your anger with him. And it would seem that God’s forgiveness came after his expression of anger and punishment toward Israel. Your quote reveals that quite clearly. “God says: ‘May it be My will that My mercy will overcome My anger towards Israel for their transgressions, and may My mercy prevail over My other attributes through which Israel is punished…” First came God’s expression of anger and punishment. I can’t help but to think that perhaps the prayers that have gone up, as well as the call for prayer in the aftermath of yesterday’s four state tornado (200 miles of touchdown) is not a call for mercy and forgiveness after God has already expressed his anger with the world he has created. That is if you believe in and trust the God of the Bible. And doesn’t God have a special place for those who do not repent? I’m not so sure I want to be like God. Thanks, Nate, for your thoughts.