“Jonah cried out, ‘In forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ The Ninevites believed God. Everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” – Jonah 3:4-5
Jonah preaches: “Change your ways now, or else God will lower the boom!” Instantly the nasty Ninevites repent.
I’ve tried to change fast like a Ninevite, but it doesn’t work. Oh, I’ve broken bad habits, forgiven hurts, acted honestly when it was easier not to. But with a crushing inevitability, I’ve also relapsed. A lot.
God demands change, but it can seem like a set-up. Doesn’t God know I’m a walking gap between resolution and deed? That I can’t resolve my ambivalence once and for all? Is God toying with me? That’s not a God you love. It’s a God you fear. Who needs that?
So here’s what I’ve come to believe about gaps (it’s self-serving, but the Bible backs me up): Gaps don’t condemn us, they save us. God comes closest to us in our gaps. No gaps, no mercy.
Spiritually moribund people are blissfully unaware of having any gaps. Spiritually self-assured people are certain they have none. You won’t find them up at night wondering if there’s more to discipleship than what they already do so well for Jesus. But people who are painfully aware of their gaps give God an opening.
That lag-time between command and compliance? It becomes a grace period. The gap between deciding and doing? It’s filled to the brim with mercy.
Conversion isn’t about closing gaps. It’s about letting our gaps be holy venues where endless lack meets endless love. The command is not so much to permanently convert as to be permanently convertible, which means to confess every day that we need.
Mercy will change us more than effort ever will.
Let my gaps be a magnet for mercy; my failure, the scene of new love.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.