The Wisdom of Tenderness
Every change in the quality of a person's life must grow out of a change in his or her vision of reality. The Christian accepts the Word of Jesus Christ as the master vision of reality. Jesus' Person and teaching shape our understanding of God, the world, other people, and ourselves. This shaping exercises a decisive influence on the Christian's lifestyle.
A simple example: If we accept the revelation of Jesus that God is Father, that there's "one God and Father of all, who is over all, and works through all, and is in all" (Eph. 4:6), then we're making a statement, not just about God but about ourselves. To say, "Abba, Father," in the Spirit is to say that we're children. It's to acknowledge that other people are our brothers and sisters in the human family. This understanding affects our lifestyle because it implies acceptance of others and responsibility for others: we do our best to give family members whatever they need. This familial relationship is to be taken literally, for it's a thing of flesh and blood in the bond of the Holy Spirit. True Christian community is the realization and actualization of "Our Father, who art in heaven."
Classic author A.W. Tozer sees the link between our perception of God and our understanding of humankind as crucial. He writes,
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, "What comes into your mind when you think about God?" we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the church will stand tomorrow.
Formed and informed by the Word of God, saints and mystics down the centuries have chanted the same refrain: God can't not love us. Without the eternal, interior generation of love, God would cease to be God. When we're steeped in selfishness, indifferent to the poor, tormented by lust, wallowing in self-pity, and flattened by depression, God's love continues to carry us. According to John, the essence of our faith lies in trusting that love of God (I John 4:16). Salvation happens the moment we accept without reservation what G.K. Chesterton called the "furious" love of God. Jesus' life of preaching, teaching, and healing and his death/resurrection are the supreme manifestations of a love that defies human comprehension.
Whether your childhood was idyllic or abusive, the challenge stands: Do you accept yourself as one utterly loved by God? The human love experienced in a happy home, though rich and rewarding, isn't even remotely comparable to divine love, and the absolute deprivation of human affection isn't an insuperable impediment to "being seized by the power of a great affection." Both those who have been loved well and those who have known nothing but contempt in the home need stubborn grace to make the leap of faith into the arms of love. Thus, no one is exempt.
But what of God's justice? The Scriptures state unequivocally that God is both lover and judge. Are not the two diametrically opposed? Should not -- must not -- one have priority over the other? Thérèse of Lisieux, recognized as a Doctor of the church because of the truth and depth of her analysis of the spiritual life, penned the following words: "I hope as much from the justice of God as from his mercy. It is because he is just that he is compassionate and full of tenderness." She continues, "for he knows our weakness. He remembers that we are dust. As a father has tenderness for his children, so the Lord has compassion for us. I do not understand souls who have fear of so tender a Friend What joy to think that God is just, that he takes account of our weaknesses, that he knows perfectly the fragility of our nature."
The genesis of this book can be traced to an extended period of silence and solitude that I spent in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania. My retreat began fitfully with several days of physical fatigue, spiritual dryness, boredom, and vague feelings of existential guilt over the prospect that I might be using the ministry to satiate my appetite for approval and recognition. In the late afternoon on the fifth day, I dragged myself to chapel to endure yet another hour of the Great Stare: meditation. As I settled into a straight-back chair, the carillon bells tolled four times.
Thirteen hours later, I rose from the chair and walked out of the chapel with one phrase ringing in my head and pounding in my heart: "Live in the wisdom of accepted tenderness."
Once again, every change in the quality of a Christian's life must grow out of a change in his or her vision of reality. Thirteen hours of silence and solitude radically altered my perception of everything.
If I'm graced to understand with my head and to accept with my heart that the essence of the divine nature is compassion, then God is best defined by the heart of tenderness. Daily the universal church cries out in morning praise, "In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and to guide our feet on the road to peace" (Luke 1:78-79, italics mine).
Relating to God as the heart of tenderness identifies the Holy Spirit as the bond of tenderness between the Father and the Son. Thus, the gentle Spirit dwelling within us is the deepest expression of tenderness -- indeed, the Spirit-filled Christian is one whose heart is overflowing with tenderness -- and.Continues.