June 2, 2017 Column
The broad, inclusive love of God
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
Frederick William Faber was born in 1814, the son of an English Anglican clergyman. He followed in his father’s footsteps, being ordained as an Anglican priest, but switched to the Roman Catholic Church in 1846. As a Roman Catholic priest, Faber wrote a number of hymns, some of which are still sung today. One of his hymns includes the following verses:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
It seems to be to be more and more important these days to be able to speak with each other in honest, open and respectful ways. It has become more acceptable, somehow, to dismiss people with whom we disagree. We call them names. We label them in a particular way, and we think that allows us to ignore them and their opinions. After all, we think, they’re just plain wrong. Or worse, they’re idiots.
We live in a world which has become increasingly divided. Fanaticisms of all kinds are on the rise. Extremists of all stripes are willing to do whatever is necessary to get their point across. We have seen too many instances of attacks on Muslims … or Jews … or people in the LGBTQ community … and the list goes on. People stare at each other across great divides, or worse, we attack each other when we disagree.
So let me say it again—more than ever, we need to learn to talk together. Who knows — we might even learn from other people, especially those who think completely differently from us.
One of my favourite definitions of dialogue is that it is “the willingness to have our opinions changed.” When we enter fully into dialogue with someone else, we listen to them with open minds and open hearts. We listen beyond and behind the words, so that they may enter our lives and have an effect on the way we think. Dialogue requires the willingness to move from where we were to another place. It’s not about winning. It’s about growing and learning from each other.
That’s a dangerous undertaking, in some ways. It might mean that we will have to change. We don’t deal well at all with change, and particularly so with cherished beliefs and matters of faith. It is much easier to say, “This is what I believe, and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong.” It’s easier … but not particularly faithful or helpful.
In matters of faith, it’s easy to condemn someone else who thinks differently from us. We are dealing with eternal things, and something inside of us says that we have to protect those beliefs. So we label other people as being unfaithful. We denounce the opinions of others as just being wrong. We refuse to be in dialogue with them, because it threatens beliefs that are deeply and profoundly held.
But that’s a perilous way. Faber had it right almost two centuries ago. God is larger and wider and broader and deeper and higher and more profound than any one of us can understand or comprehend. God’s love is wide enough to contain all the world’s perspectives. God’s exuberant passion embraces all the world’s peoples. God’s tenderness for the world is limitless. God’s lavish delight in creation welcomes all shapes, sizes, and shades.
The heart of God is inclusive, not exclusive. I dare to believe that God’s heart is much more inclusive than we can ever imagine. And if we claim to worship and follow such a God, then it is incumbent upon us to be as broad, as open, as compassionate, as tolerant as we can possibly be. To follow Christ is to follow one who embraced all people and who calls us to loving above all else.
In 2004, Brian McLaren wrote a wonderful book with the title, “A Generous Orthodoxy”. I love that title. It reminds me to be open in the way I live out my faith, and in the way I talk with other people. We are to be generous, not only with people who believe the same way we do, but especially with those who believe differently. This includes people of other faiths as well as people who claim to have no faith.
I try to be broadly inclusive in my approach to Christian faith. The largeness of God’s heart embraces all people, so who am I to limit the saving grace of God to Christians alone? I believe God is working in the hearts of faithful and generous people, no matter their tradition.
So let’s keep our conversation going. Let’s keep talking. I want to hear what others think, and especially those who disagree with me. I want to talk with others and listen to others in an honest, open, respectful and faithful dialogue. I want to learn from their insights, and I want to be generous in my dialogue with them.
I also believe that as we do so, as we learn to talk with each other, as we work at building bridges, we honour God.