God’s forgiving love

Question: Someone once told me that God cannot be bound by what the Church does, so that if one person goes to confession and another does not, we cannot be sure how each would up end up in the eyes of God. For example, if I make a good confession and then drop dead, is my final destiny still up in the air?

— Peter J. Witiuk, Edison, N.J.

Answer: God is not neutral toward his creatures. He is a God of reconciliation, mercy and forgiveness. His will is that all men and women be saved.

God entrusted his saving work in an unsurpassable way to his Son, Jesus Christ. The whole career of Jesus was one of calling sinners, embracing those condemned by others, seeking out the lost sheep and restoring those who are imperfect to the love of the Father.

The Church is the principal means by which God’s saving work continues in the world. As Christ and the Father are one in bringing salvation to the world, so the Church has no other agenda than continuing and extending God’s reconciling power. While God’s forgiving work extends beyond the Church, and is by no means limited to the Church, the Church exists to be in perfect saving accordance with the Father’s will and to be a sacrament of Christ’s forgiving love.

When the Church and its ministers offer forgiveness to sinners, they are doing so in the name of God. This is partly what Jesus meant when he said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed also in heaven” (Mt 16:19). The Church, then, does not forgive sins in its own right; it does so in the name of Jesus. By the same token, when the Church offers forgiveness, God does not withhold his mercy, but uses the Church as his agency of redemption. 

One can be certain, then, that if one truly repents of one’s sins, makes a good confession and receives the absolution of the sacrament, then God’s mercy is not withheld. 

Is God bored? 

Question: If God knows the end of all things, is he not bored? If I knew how things were going to turn out, I would be bored to death. 

— James T. Crowley Jr., Metuchen, N.J. 

Answer: In a certain sense, we human beings already know the end of all things. If we live by God’s commandments and do his will, our end is heaven. While we do not experience heaven now — except through human experiences of goodness, truth and beauty — we can enjoy it by anticipation. The human intimations of heaven only whet our appetite for the real thing. The human expectation of heaven is certainly not boring. 

While we cannot apply the ordinary categories of time to God, we cannot say that he is bored. Certainly God knows fully the end of all things, but God does not yet enjoy the end for which all things were made: complete human communion with him and the perfection of all creation and history. 

While there is no imperfection in God, and God is complete in himself, nevertheless we can say (speaking in human terms) that God awaits with us the new heavens and the new earth that are as yet only real in the mind of God. The God who created all things waits at the end of history for the completion of his plan of salvation and redemption. Thus God can hardly be bored. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.