The Parish of Burchetts Green

This month Rev Keith writes about

the divine headmaster


A gracious God

God actively seeks out those who have strayed from him and rejoices when they come home. Paul sees his experience as an example of the utmost patience of God. This is a common Biblical theme. 'But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,' says the psalmist.

God is active in the world he has created and sustains and is aware and concerned about his people. God is no severe headmaster looking for the slightest excuse to punish.

We should be confident in the living God who abounds in steadfast love and graciousness, knowing that he will accept us as we are, if we will acknowledge him as he is. God longs to enjoin with his people in the bringing about of his kingdom. If we will 'repent' (that is re-orientate our lives to this end) we need not fear, but will experience, as Paul did, the grace of our Lord over flowing for us with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

The whole school was summoned and lined up in the assembly hall, standing to attention. From a raised lectern, Mr Allen, headmaster, sir, carefully surveyed the horrible oiks in front of him, looking for the tie at half mast, a smirk on some insolent boy's face or any other misdemeanour for which he might send one of them to stand outside his office to await, quivering, whatever dreadful fate he determined was most appropriate to the crime.

A wrong view of God

Some people envisage God as akin to a divine headmaster of the old school, but this is a mistaken view. The God who reveals himself in the Bible is not a joyless judge watching from on high to find some insignificant fault as an excuse for exercising divine wrath. Far from it.

By contrast - St Paul's experience

St Paul experienced God as unlimited undeserved graciousness. This is about as far from the divine headmaster as you can get. Being violently opposed to the Gospel of Jesus, Paul had persecuted the fledgling church, presiding over the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen.

Rather than an arbitrary punishment delivered from on high, he says of his subsequent encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road: ‘I received mercy...and the grace of the Lord overflowed me’.

To the Pharisees, complaining that Jesus was associating with the wrong sort of people - 'sinners' indeed - Jesus tells two simple parables of the rejoicing in heaven over those, who, however far they may have wandered, find their way back to God.