One of the basic lessons of good writing is that readers are held by drama, and drama is created by conflict. There's something a bit pat about Tolstoy's, "All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," however it's true that happy or unhappy, is it the struggles and changes in life which are interesting to read about. Quiet bliss makes for good living but dull reading.
This dynamic can make for some odd dynamics, however, when we think about conversion and relationship with God in terms of stories. Someone who has a tempestuous relationship with God makes for a more exciting story. You know the sort of thing: There were so many times he turned away from God. Hated God. Fell back into [insert spectacular sin here] and yet each time he returned with the fervor of a drowning man seizing upon a life raft. No matter how many times he turned away, at his heart he knew he needed God.
These sorts of stories are dramatic to read, and in a story sense it seems as if someone who loves God despite so many obstacles, who turns to God so many times, must love God more than the more boring sort of believer. But such a relationship takes on a rather different flavor if we imagine it between two of us ordinary people. Take for instance: There are so many times he left his wife, cheated on her, beat her, stole from her, berated her. But deep in his heart he loved her so much that he always came back.
Sound like a lovely marriage? Like a marriage full of deeper love than a quietly, undramatically loving one? No. We'd think of someone like that as a terrible husband.
Of course, a key difference is that we can't damage God. To be sure, we can hurt Him. Every time we look at the crucifix we see the way in which our sins can pierce God. But God is infinitely greater than us, and so even while He is perfectly sensitive the to pain of our transgressions, He is also undamaged by them. When some other person hurts us too often and too badly, we're sometimes forced to turn ourselves away in self protection. It becomes difficult to rejoice in the latest contrition when we know it will be followed only too soon by another blow falling upon the bruise. God does not need to protect Himself in this way, and so God remains eager to welcome back the sinner at every repentance, however inevitable the next major transgression may seem.
And yet, this does not mean that God is some sort of divine punching bag whom we can pummel simply because He can take it. The fact that we cannot truly damage God does not mean that we cannot hurt Him. A betrayal is no less an injury because it cannot be fatal.
The fact we cannot truly injure God is important in thinking about repentance. In human relationships, it is sometimes true that someone is "better off if we leave them alone" at least for a time. This is never true with God. No matter how many times we have offended Him, He is always ready and eager for us to return to him.
And yet, aside from the drama of spectacular falls and returns, presuming upon the fact that we can't injure God can become a way to excuse our own bad behavior. After all, breaking out attachment to sin often hurts, like breaking a badly healed bone so that it can re-heal straight. "God can take it," can become the mantra of inaction, the excuse to not break away from the sins to which we return so often. If changing will hurt us, and our offenses do not really hurt God, then why not string along a bit? After all, God is always ready to forgive one more time.
But the implicit comparison of "will it hurt me more to change or God more to keep sinning?" misses what really occurs when we conform ourselves to God's will. Whatever the pain of breaking out old habits and attachments, to conform ourselves to God is to become our best selves, to attain to the highest good. Any pain that is involved in breaking free from out attachments to sin and conforming to God's will is the pain of the refining furnace.
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