In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Aunt Norris couldn’t bring herself to be happy for her niece, Fanny Price. When Cousin Edward suggested giving Fanny a horse, Aunt Norris objected that it would be too extravagant a gift. When Fanny was invited to a ball, Aunt Norris didn’t think it appropriate for her to go. After all, Fanny wasn’t from the noble part of the family and didn’t deserve the same perks her cousins enjoyed.
Have you ever known someone like that? Someone who can’t seem to endure seeing others blessed and who always rains on everyone’s parade? Perhaps you’re like that. I have been from time to time. Instead of rejoicing with others, either out of jealousy, self-pity or just plain meanness, we sometimes say or do things to bring happy people down.
Many Christians, unable to accept the magnitude of God’s grace, add conditions to everything from church membership to teaching children’s classes — and even to salvation. Being accepted by God can’t be as easy as simply believing! Surely people need to be made aware of just how horrific sin is to God and how angry he is at it. No one can get away with anything less than repenting on bloody knees, going through a gauntlet of misery and emotional suffering to prove their understanding of sin, followed by years of doing good works. Being saved is the easy part; actually getting to heaven requires much effort.
Or does it?
Do you still wonder how God can let everyone in on the fun of grace, regardless of how serious their sins? How he can pay the latecomers to the vineyard the same as those who started work at dawn? How he can welcome the prodigal son, who hadn’t even taken the time to have a bath?
The beautiful thing about understanding God as a Trinitarian being is a simple concept called inclusion. Father, Son and Spirit include each other in everything. Each does nothing without the others. The love enjoyed by Father, Son and Spirit overflows to the whole of creation and includes all of us, every living thing from beginning to end. No one is left out. No one must feel the sting of rejection or abandonment — not with God.
The import of this truth is enormous. Every single person you see (and those you don’t see — everyone who ever lived) is included in God’s life. There are no exceptions. Some will choose to exclude themselves, but that’s between them and God. Our business is to love and include everyone to the best of our ability and leave the judging to God.
What a difference this understanding would make to churches everywhere! I can’t imagine how many tracts would have to be reprinted if this truth were embraced. The sinner’s prayer would become the beloved’s prayer or the believer’s prayer. That little bridge used to illustrate the gulf between God and humanity? Gone! Instead you might see a picture of the loving arms of God, holding someone who may still be in need of a bath, clean clothes and a meal, but grateful, happy and loved.
If Aunt Norris had understood this, she could have contributed not only to her niece’s happiness but also to her own. She could have changed the rain that ruined the parade into a rainbow, with blessings for everyone, just as God intends.
By Tammy Tkach