This Easter Season is a celebration of the fact that although the Ancient Serpent that is Satan) initially succeeded in derailing God’s great plan and desire for humanity, God neither abandoned us to our fate nor lost his desire to share his divine life with us. Instead, in Christ, God actively came in search of us poor banished exiles of Eden languishing like so many lost and wandering sheep bereft of hope and in the clutches of death and despair. However, it is important to remember that what animates the Good Shepherd to come in search of us his lost and erring sheep is not simply mercy, or compassion, but an inexplicable longing and desire for our friendship and love.
Thus it is that the great theologian Von Balthasar attributes to Christ what Saint Augustine famously attributed only to us, namely, our hearts were made for thee O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in thee, and speaking to Christ, Von Balthasar prays: Restless is your heart, [O Jesus,] until it rests in me! Restless is your heart until we rest in you! We find an echo of this rather startling claim in the great Origen who explains that Christ is waiting for us to be converted, to imitate his example, to follow his footsteps, and to be able to rejoice with us and drink wine with us in the kingdom of his Father. We, therefore, are the ones who, neglecting our own life, are delaying his joy.
Those approaching God from a more philosophical and theological frame of mind might balk at this idea because it seems to suggest an insufficiency and incompleteness in God, and a happiness and joy that are contingent upon our acceptance of his friendship. However, it can also be understood as making an incredible statement about our human nature and its incredible dignity and nobility. It is because we still have such a limited understanding and circumscribed experience of God that the notion of being created in God’s image and likeness fails to amaze and stupefy us.
In this respect those scientists not closed to the possibility of the notion of a creator God are at an advantage as they strive to unravel the mysteries of the universe and repeatedly uncover its ever increasing complexity and bewildering immensity. And that such an all-powerful Creator-God should actually seek us out and sincerely desire our friendship and love, simply overwhelms the mind. And yet that is precisely what Jesus claimed: I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
We are all so familiar with the standard calls to repentance and the motivations for doing so, but the image of the Good Shepherd offers yet another compelling motive to repent: Failure to repent and open our hearts to God’s freely offered friendship deprives God of that unique joy that our love for him engenders, thus leaving God’s heart restless because we do not yet rest in him.And thus Origen can say God is waiting for joy? And when does he expect it? When he has accomplished his work. When will he accomplish this work? When he has brought me, the last and worst of all sinners, to fulfillment and perfection. For now, his work is imperfect as long as I am imperfect. And so we might conclude with the psalmist’s exhortation: If today you hear his voice [that voice of the Good Shepherd] harden not your hearts, but open them so that God’s work—that divine plan—may finally be accomplished. Then God’s heart and ours will no longer be restless, but enter fully into that eternal Sabbath rest, bearing with us that everlasting joy that will never again be taken from us.