While on a walk on Harvester Island this week, I saw a splash and heard a blast by one of our fishing nets. I knew what it was even before I saw it---a sea lion. Sure enough, there he was, fishing our net. Too lazy to go out and fish the ocean he swam in, the element he owned, he caught our fish instead of his own. There he was, rising from beneath with a fish in his mouth and a playful toss of his head.
A single sea lion can eat thirty fish from our net in a day. We had none to spare today----the nets are catching mostly water and kelp. I was ready to resent him----moocher, lion of the sea, feeding from our pastures instead of his own limitless waters. And then through my camera lens I saw and caught my breath
---he was wounded. Maybe even mortally wounded. His face on one side nearly ripped off. His entire back a gaping wound.
The orcas. A pod had come through last week . …
I did not watch the sea lion alone. A dear friend from college was there with me, visiting for the week. We could hardly stop talking, the two of us, still filling in the 30 years we lost track of each other. We both had had large families, years of grad school, teaching careers, writing, so much the same though a continent apart and no words in between. And in the midst of all the richness of our lives, we discovered we shared as well great woundings, departures, ruptures, and scars we bore then and some still.
We remembered the decades we believed in long sermons, instant obedience, unquestioning sacrifice, submission, and “leadership” that refused accountability. We lamented our acceptance of rules over relationships, skirts instead of pants, long hair instead of short, obedience instead of love, fear instead of courage. We repented of the years we wasted following man-made laws instead of God-given grace, pursuing acceptance through feckless perfectionism rather than living the gospel through reckless forgiveness.
And we rejoiced, because somehow, we survived. Somehow we escaped the orcas, the predators who rule by might and speed and strength, who cow and devour with another gospel. Another gospel entirely.
And we rejoiced because it was God himself who rescued us.
Who is this God we serve? What kind of God is he? What does God look like? Is he an angry, toothed, rule-grinding deity, predator of the deep, ready to lash and devour the weak, the sinful, the ones who can’t measure up or keep on? Is he a sin-counter, an angry executioner of the recalcitrant, the long-haired, the imperfect, the tattooed, the late-to-church, the wine sippers, the storytellers, the drum-beaters, the movie-watchers, the not-good-enoughers?
I do not make light of His justice or His righteousness, even his righteous anger, which is part of his perfection. But look. Look around you and see who God is toward you, see who has tended my wounds and yours. Who is this God? How large is He? How loving? How far beyond us is He? How near is He? That night, that very night of the sea lion, here is an answer written in the sky:
Here are answers in the ones around me.
(Five Fields + crewmen-friends Peter and Josh)
And here, just one of a million answers and words given to us, these from the book of Hosea where God sings this love song to his disobedient children, Israel:
I loved him,
and I called
my son out of Egypt. . .
I took Israel by the arm
and taught them to walk . . .
I led them with kindness
and with love,
not with ropes.
I held them close to me;
I bent down to feed them.
And even when Israel rebels, God sings this:
Israel, I can’t let you go.
I can’t give you up.
My feelings for you
are much too strong.
I am the Holy God—
not merely some human,
and I won’t stay angry.
. . . my children will return,
from the west.
They will come back,
fluttering like birds from Egypt . ..
Then I will settle them
back in their homes.
Yes, He is righteous, but does His righteousness make him a rule-slinging, angry unforgiving God?
Never. Here's what you must know and do:
Don’t let the orcas devour you with a gospel that says you must be perfect and obedient, meaning you must follow the laws and rules of their own power-hungry devising. Don’t confuse such people and such preaching with the God who risked everything to rescue a wandering lamb, who wrapped a towel around him and knelt to wash his friends’ dirty feet, who submitted to the worst kind of death to redeem your life, to empower you to fall on your knees to do the same for others as wandering and dirty as you . . .
I so hope that sea lion heals. I don’t even mind if he comes back to our net for more fish. I would even feed him myself if I could.
God is doing this for me. And for you.
This is the kind of God we love and serve.
Join me in spreading this good gospel news!