For Father Richard, God’s unconditional love is itself a movement that transforms us:
This whole human project pivots around Divine Love. Because our available understanding of love is almost always conditioned on “I love you if” or “I love you when,” most people find it almost impossible—apart from real transformation—to comprehend or receive Divine Love. In fact, we cannot understand it in the least, unless we “stand under” it, like a cup beneath a waterfall. When we truly understand Divine Love, our politics, our anthropology, our economics, and our movements for justice will all change.
If we are to believe the biblical revelation, it seems that God does not love the people Israel if they change (as they first imagine), but so that they can change. Divine Love is not a reward for good behavior, as we first presume it to be; it is a larger Life, an energy and movement that we can participate in—and then, almost in spite of ourselves—we behave differently. It seems few of us go there willingly. For some reason, we’re afraid of what we most want.
The prophet Hosea tells the people of Israel poetically and succinctly, “I will love Unloved: I will say to No-People-of-Mine, ‘You are my people,’ and then you will answer back, ‘You are my God’” (Hosea 2:24). That is the divine pattern, although we almost always get it backwards. For some reason, we think that if we love God, God will love us. When, in reality, it is because God loves us that we can return the compliment. God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because God is good.
Up to the time of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE, the Jewish people believed—as so many of us do today—in retributive justice. “Tit for tat,” we might say. It went something like this: mistake –> punishment –> conversion –> consolation/salvation. Most people accept that logic to this day because it makes God and the world feel fair and just. Reward and retribution are in our hardwiring. They are the plot line for almost everything—except for the evolving biblical story, beginning with the Torah and evolving through the prophets.
During and after the exile, the prophets started seeing a clearly different pattern at work in God’s dealing with people. The new pattern looks like this: mistake –> consolation/salvation –> conversion. It is a total turnaround of consciousness! As Isaiah is able to hear from God, “The shame of your youth you shall forget . . . My love shall never fall away from you” (Isaiah 54:4, 10). It seems that inside the Divine logic the answer to failure is, in fact, more love!
Divine Love is the interpretive key to everything. Unloved people do bad things. Loved people do good things. It is that simple.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Retribution or Restoration?,” Radical Grace 15, no. 4 (October–December 2002): 8.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on restorative justice.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Khamkéo Vilaysing, Lonely Tree (detail), 2017, France, photograph, Unsplash. Anastase Maragos, Calm Tide (detail), 2020, Canada, photograph, Unsplash. Clark Gu, Untitled (detail), 2020, Korea, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: We cannot see the wind, but we feel it. We recognize its presence by watching the world around us move in response to its power. At times, the movement of Spirit towards justice feels invisible and interminably slow, but like waves slowly shaping the shoreline, in time we see the fruits of God’s movement.
Story from Our Community:
My husband was ordained a Deacon in 1978, and we both embraced it with expectant joy. Our lives were marked by the turmoil, reforms and sadness of the past few decades of the Catholic church. . . [Today] we love the Catholic faith, but not the institution. Thanks to the CAC, the Daily Meditations, and Fr. Richard Rohr, we have an entirely new vision for the meaning and possibilities of church. This new understanding has brought us deep peace. People may see us as just a couple of folks in the pew, but we know that our vision of Church has expanded beyond the limits of an institution. With deep Gratitude! —Joanne H.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.