Much against my better judgement (I’m still berating myself for things I ‘shouldn’t' do as a novice in TSSF) I took myself off to the January sales last week. My jeans were, shall as say, rather tight after the Christmas festivities and much as I told myself that they’d shrunk in the wash, I needed something elasticated and comfortable. I’d like to think of myself as the sort of person who would much rather be running through a field of wheat or shinning up a mountain than trying clothes on, but the boring truth is, I like a good sale. I like the thrill of the chase, the fingering of the fabric, the 50% OFF! ticket, the glow of pure satisfaction when it fits. Call me shallow if you like. I do.
Anyway, hunt over, kill made, I set off back to the car park only to be arrested by the sight of a bloke preaching on the street corner. I used to do be made to this when I was a kid, so I felt some natural affinity with him. It wasn’t a warm day and hats off to him, he was standing up there and doing it.
But his billboard depressed me. No – I’m being too nice to myself. It enraged me. It made me want to eyeball him and screech, ‘YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!’ It made me want to turn to the assembled little throng hanging on his every word and shout, ‘RUN!'
Naturally I did none of those things. I am fairly house-trained these days in the niceties of spiritual debate. In fact, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to start an argument in the middle of the city centre with someone who may or may not be into listening and responding appropriately.
So I walked away and prayed for him instead and for all the people around him. I can’t type that without a glow of amazement and satisfaction – even though it doesn’t quite square with trying to be humble. I managed to turn around my homicidal rage into prayer and I thank God and my companions on the journey for that.
I did take a sneaky pic of his billboard on my phone though to show my husband when I got home, and just talk it through if you like. I like doing this and my ever patient and accommodating other half doesn’t mind.
The preacher’s billboard said,
There are only two kinds of people.
Unsaved. Lost. Guilty. Condemned.
Or Saved. Redeemed. Forgiven. Justified.
He had lots of helpful little tracts to hand out telling me how to be in the Saved and Redeemed camp but I could have told him, growing up as I did in daily terror that I hadn’t done it properly and would forever be Unsaved. Lost. Guilty. Condemned.
And call me old-fashioned but I just won’t buy it anymore. I don’t buy a God who would damn most of his creation because they haven’t read the tract.
Recently I saw a cartoon depicting God as a smiley golden Labrador seated on his ornate throne, his tongue hanging out, panting with delight. The caption reads, ‘The joyful, loving, eternally forgiving nature of dogs never tipped you off?’ and I realised that those words - ‘joyful’, ‘loving’, ‘forgiving’ were fairly new additions to my God-vocabulary.
My childhood God was a snarling Rottweiler rather than a friendly Labrador. Someone I would edge past as quickly as I could in case he took a chunk out of my leg. Much the same as an encounter with a Rottweiler on a home visit I did when I was working. I stepped into the kitchen to be faced with the Hound from Hell who most definitely didn’t want me in his kitchen and the lady of the house spreading her arms in front of his slavering jaws, jerking her head towards the living room, panicking ‘Get past ‘im quick or ‘e’ll ‘ave yer.’ Needless to say, my mind wasn’t on that interview.
I don’t want a God I have to scuttle past. I don’t want a God who terrifies me. I don’t want a God who I genuinely believe could really hurt me. I want a God like that smiley Labrador, joyful, loving forgiving. I know that doesn’t give me carte blanche to live my life just as I please and be a right cow. It means, because I feel safe and loved and held in eternal arms, I want to be the best I can be – for God, for other people, for myself.
And – all you Rottweiler lovers out there – I know your dogs can get an undeserved bad press and they can really be loving and reliable and safe.
Just like God.