One statement in the pre-marriage inventory used in our diocese reads: "Nothing could ever happen in our marriage to cause me to question my partner's love for me."

Though we give the couple the option of signifying various levels of agreement or disagreement with the statement, most respond, "Strongly agree!" Of course, such a response triggers the computer to move us into the "special focus" section of the read-out, obligating the administrator of the inventory to spend some minutes of quality time showing the couple how love can still be present even in the midst of "things" which certainly will cause that love to be questioned.

Something parallel happens in our relationship with God. God's love of His people is a basic principle of our faith. Yet, at times, in spite of that principle, many of us have difficulty believing He loves us; things happen which cause us to question God's devotion.

The authors of Sunday's three readings presume that will be the case for all of us, but each responds to the situation differently.

God's mercy

The Genesis author (Gen 18:20-32) picks up last week's story of Abraham and Sarah's three visitors, adding the famous scene in which one of the visitors is discovered to be Yahweh. Now, because of Yahweh's new relationship with this special couple, Abraham is let in on a secret. "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great," God reveals, "and their sin [a lack of hospitality!] so grave that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me."

Abraham then pleads for the people, eventually finagling Yahweh to hold off destroying them if only ten just persons can be found in the region.

This unparalleled story has a two-fold purpose: to show the bargaining skill of Abraham, the first Jew, and to demonstrate the mercy of Yahweh, the loving God. The latter seems to be the more important. Throughout the narrative, the sacred author's underlying message is that God can be influenced by His people. Those who say we follow an unfeeling God are wrong. The feelings are there even if we don't perceive them.

Jesus makes a similar point in the Gospel (Lk 11:1-13). Luke starts by having Jesus give His disciples (the shorter, more original form of) the Lord's Prayer, but then adds Jesus' words on the frame of mind a person should have while praying it.

After giving an example touting the value of persistence, Jesus then reminds His followers of the way God looks at His people. "What father among you," He demands to know, "will give his son a snake if he asks for a fish, or hand him a scorpion if he asks for an egg? If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask."

Gift of Spirit

Because Luke considers the Holy Spirit the most important gift which post-resurrection followers of Jesus receive, the evangelist is basically telling his community that, even when it doesn't look that way, we can be assured God will give us anything we ask, as long as it's for our good. Parents notoriously do such things, even if their children don't notice.

Yet it's left to Paul to address the reason most of us question God's love: our unworthiness (Col 2:12-14). How could such a good God love such a bad person? The apostle responds, "No problem!"

"Even when you were dead in your sin," he reminds his Colossian community, "and your flesh was uncircumcised, God gave you new life in company with Christ. He pardoned all our sins, canceling the bond that stood against us with all its claims, snatching it up and nailing it to the cross."

God's love is never limited by our lack of love. No matter who or what we are, God must be who God is: the universe's most loving person. God's love doesn't kick in at the point someone does something deserving of that love. It's always there, always energizing our lives.

The sacred authors assume that we often deal with things which cause us to question God's love. That's why they spend so much quality time reassuring us about it.

(07-23-98)