The Messy God

I’m here to weigh in on the timeless debate: I prefer sloppy wet kiss to unforeseen kiss. Like really prefer it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the debate which I am speaking of, it has to do with the praise & worship classic “How He Loves,” originally by John Mark McMillan and made popular by David Crowder. In one verse, there is a line where it says that “heaven meets earth like a ________ kiss.” There are two options: sloppy wet, or unforeseen, and which one you choose says a lot about whether or not I’ll be friends with you (kidding. sort of.).

While I am using intentionally stronger words than need to be used here, I do believe that the words we choose to use in our worship can often say a lot about our image of God, our image of ourselves, and our experience of the faith. I am a person who has always preferred the image of sloppy wet, but recently it has meant something radically new and incredibly revealing to me.

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.
— Catechism of the Catholic Church 1760

Freedom is this incredible gift we’ve been given by God; we get to make choices, we have the freedom to love, and we are in the likeness of God who creates all things and holds them in existence. Freedom is also an incredibly difficult thing for us as humans; we are constantly torn between the thing that is right and the thing that is wrong, and our freedom combined with our fallen humanity leave us choosing the wrong much more often than we’d like to.

For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.
— Romans 7:19

This experience, this terrible, incredibly real experience of over and over again choosing to reject the good towards which I have been called and instead choose the evil, the sin, the very thing I detest, is why I love the idea of a sloppy wet kiss. It is really hard for me to imagine a God who comes down and neatly kisses me; if He were trying to have a clean, simple, and easy kiss, I’m afraid that I would just end up giving up because I’d never be ready for that kiss.

No, instead I have a God who knows me, one who comes into my reality and calls me into the freedom towards which I have been created not to be perfect and receive Him in some spotless way, but rather to enter into the mess that my freedom creates.

As I said, I’ve always loved this image, but recently it has become increasingly clear why. In December, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Noah Michael. This would make Noah six months old at the time of writing this, and let me tell you: life is messy. He cries...a lot. He is constantly covered in some combination of drool, spit up, milk, poop, pee, and whatever else he happened to find as he rolled recklessly around the floor while I disappeared for 15 seconds because I absolutely needed that cup of coffee. Sometimes, he leaves me frustrated and feeling like I’ll never possibly get him to sleep. Then, I look down at him, and he’ll decide to show off his new trick, which most recently has been to stick his tongue out at me with a huge grin on his face, and it’ll all change. All of that frustration becomes less frustrating, and the mess and the chaos of daily life comes into a whole clearer picture.

Let me be clear: just because he did something cute doesn’t mean I’m done being frustrated. In my mess, my anger, my insecurity, and whatever other madness is welling up inside of me I can quickly go from smiling back at him to ready to scream right back at his screams. I’m not writing this to make some sort of cliche point through it, I’m writing it because as I was sitting the other day and holding him at something like 3:15am and he wasn’t awake but he definitely wasn’t asleep and we both had some spit up on us I found myself realizing that the sloppy, wet kiss wasn’t just an analogy, it was the way I needed to be loved.

I’m a mess: I choose the wrong thing over and over again, leaving myself covered in all kinds of dirt and grime, and yet I’m loved by a God who keeps coming back to me.

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.
— Catechism of the Catholic Church 1

Maybe this is just another one of those lessons I should have learned a long time ago, but for me it’s something I’m learning all over again each day. When Pope Francis speaks of smelling like the sheep, when Pope Benedict XVI speaks of God’s love in spite of our shortcomings, when every saint ever (basically) speaks of the love of God breaking right into the midst of their sin, they’re talking about the mess.

Life is messy because we sin, and in our sin we find ourselves squarely in the midst of the sloppiness, the dirt, the grime, and the mess. Luckily, we have a God not scared of our mess. He doesn’t just want to come and embrace us when it’s right, when it’s clean, and when it’s easy. The father doesn’t ask the prodigal son to wash himself on his return home before he embraces him - he kisses him first. Just so, our Father is not looking for us to be washed a certain way before we’re ready for His embrace: He just wants the embrace.

JASON THEOBOLD

Jason is a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Huntley, IL, and lives well outside of Chicago with his wonderful wife Sarah and their son, Noah.

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