The last time I saw my Norwegian grandfather, Bestefar, alive I had a big argument with him. He criticized someone I love, and as a passionate 18-year old, I rose to the defense of that someone. Bestefar and I exchanged harsh words and parted in anger.

About a week later, the call came from my grandmother, Bestemor, telling us that Bestefar was in the hospital and she thought he might not survive. My mother and I ran to the car and drove the 25 miles to the hospital. I loved my Bestefar and wanted him to live. If he was going to die, I desperately wanted a chance to make things right again between us first!

Bestemor was standing outside the hospital when we arrived so she could be the one to break the news to us: Bestefar died. Then she took me aside and told me that before he died he had said that he loved me and and had no hard feelings about anything. It was such a relief to know that he had forgiven me, and that relief made my sadness over his death more bearable. My heart and mind have sought out the sweetness of that relief many a time.

Many years later, as a hospital chaplain, I learned enough about what happens when people die from massive heart attacks to suspect that Bestefar wasn’t able to say anything at all before he died. In fact, I am quite certain that Bestemor made up those “dying words” in order to spare me the pain and regret over arguing with Bestefar the last time I saw him alive.

And yet the sweet relief of forgiveness is just as strong in my heart and mind as it was before I knew. In true Quaker style, I have the experiential confirmation from my own life of the Truth told in the Bible about the mystery of God’s forgiveness of humans and what was accomplished by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

It is truly a mystery to me that, even now that I know that Bestemor was probably saying something that was untrue, I still know in the depths of my being that he would have forgiven me if given the chance – because that is the kind of man he was. And I know even more deeply how much Bestemor must have loved me and cared about me in order to tell that lie – she who had been a stubborn truth-teller all her life, no matter what the cost to herself. In her wisdom, she knew I might be tormented with the ‘if only”s that so often plague the bereaved, and so she gave it, even though it wasn’t really hers to give.

I was forgiven and loved because of who THEY were, my Bestefar and Bestemor, not because of who I am or anything I did.

Whenever I try to explain the how and the why of this situation, I fail. It makes no sense to me. But it has Truth written all over it. And perhaps precisely because it makes no logical sense that I would feel forgiven by Bestefar, this experience tells the larger Truth about God’s forgiveness? Perhaps they are – in fact – the same story? God’s love and forgiveness are above, below, around, and within our human failings and efforts at reconciling.  

In the language of soul, I know that we are all loved and forgiven by God, and Jesus’ death and resurrection are the reason. Because of who THEY are, not because of who you and I are or anything we did to deserve it.

Don’t ask me to explain, because I can’t. 

Query for prayerful consideration:

In the language of the soul, how have I come to know God’s love and forgiveness?

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