I was at a friend's house last year and saw a book on the end table called The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus [(c) 1986, 2004]. The title caught my eye and the friend quickly gifted me an extra copy he had.
This book has increased my faith tremendously in recent months. It is deep and provocative and demonstrates the heart of a loving Father as exemplified in the teachings of Jesus.
The book by Brennan Manning is divided into three sections, based loosely on the Christian calendar:
Jesus at Easter
Jesus at Christmas
While the book is meaningful at any time of the year, I recommend reading the section "Jesus at Easter" during the Lent Season. Even non-Christians can glean from the insights of life found within. Here are a few of the passages that impacted me:
In so many ways and by so many signs did Jesus show us that He is fully human, that He has a sensitive human heart and longs to be treated as one who is human (p. 108).
Sexual imagery is universal in human religious experience. But when the living God in whose presence Moses had to remove his shoes is presented as a cuckolded husband who relentlessly pursues his wayward wife, some Christians have protested that this is not only an outrageous symbol but a blasphemous one. Why? Because the prophet Hosea is implying that God doesn't just care for His people; Hosea implies that God is sexually arrounsed in the presence of His people (p.109).
Have you ever been sexually aroused to an intense degree? Really stimulated in a sensuous way? Passionately turned on? Both the Scripture and the liturgy of the Christian community say that human sexual arousal is but a pale imitation of God's passion for His people. That is why human love, though it is the best image we have, is still an inadequate image of God's love. Not because it overdoes it, but because human desire with all its emotion cannot compare with the passionate yearning of Jesus Christ (pp. 110-111).
This was a very provocative idea for me, about which I am still thinking through. I've been musing about the imagery in Hosea in conjuction with the imagery in Song of Songs which gives greater insight into the prophetic symbols used to describe aspects of God's relationship and yearning for his people.
Not the normal God of religion who is said to love us but threatens us with punishment, but a God who cherishes and graces all people without qualification, a God whose whole and only desire is our happiness and fulfillment, a God who is grieved when we feel guilty about being happy and frightened that it won't last. Our God awareness is so flawed (p. 112).
Living out of the center shapes and forms a liberated Christian. Albert Camus once said, "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very act of existence becomes an act of rebellion" (p. 125).
Living out of the center makes a difference in so many ways. It enables us to see that the church is a place in which to celebrate and not always reform, that the world is a place that should be enjoyed, not always acted upon, that life is an experience without an agenda, that love, the greatest of all our doings, is always unearned, undeserved and unexpected (p. 127).
Living out of the center enables us to blend for a moment into a greater background than our own fears, to merely be still and to know that God is God. It means that I don't figure out, I don't analyze. Isimply lose myself in the experience of just being alive, of being in a community of believers, simply knowing that it's good to be there, even if I don't konw where "there" is or why it's good (p.128).
But living out of the center has taught me that every failure succeeds in some way. It provides the opportunity not only to humble the self but also to be gentle with the failure of others...there is a spirit of self-acceptance wihtout self-concern. This is the heart of the Gospel--that we can be gracious and compassionate toward ourselves (pp. 129-130).
When we cry out with Jeremiah, "Enough already! Leave me alone in my melancholy," the Shepherd replies, "I will not leave you alone. You are mine. I know each of My sheep by name. You belong to Me. If you think I am finished with you, if you think I am a small god that you can keep at a safe distance, I will pounce upon you like a roaring lion, tear you to pieces, rip you to shreds and break every bone in your body. Then I will mend you, cradle you in My arms and kiss you tenderly." The Lion and the Shepherd are one and the same (pp. 148-149).
The relentless tenderness of Jesus challenges us to give up our false faces, our petty conceits, our irritating vanities, our preposterous pretending, and become card-carrying members of the messy human community. Jesus calls us to be tender with each other because He is tender (p. 151).
And His compassion knows no frontiers or boundaries and extends to all. Even to myself.
Through experiencing the relentless tenderness of Jesus, we learn first of all to be genlte with ourselves...If you love yourself intensely and freely, then your feelings about yourself correspond perfectly to the sentiments of Jesus (p. 152).
I recommend this book for those who are looking for something that goes beyond the fluff of the Christian world. Manning's writings move us out of the realm of pop Christian culture and return the reader back to perhaps what was the original intention of what Jesus meant then and for our lives today.
Jonathan D. Benz, Blue Sky Living