How do people perceive God, assuming that they believe in Him at all? For those who believe, many think that God exists but remains aloof from human affairs, that He just remains indifferent to what happens in our lives. The evil we see in our midst – child abuse, halfwit and corrupt politicians, abortion, socialism, leftish fascism, crushing poverty, natural disasters, suffering of all sorts, death, et. al. – can make faith a daunting proposition and the evil in the world seems to suggest a God that simply can’t be bothered with cleaning up the great injustices so common today. However, others see God as the One Who dictates all of the events in the world, that He controls every minute detail of every moment as if we are powerless to choose our own actions or destiny. In a way, these people see God as the Great Puppet Master and we are merely puppets dancing on a string.
Neither of these understandings are accurate depictions of God. In fact, they are huge distortions, both of which suggest that God utterly cruel. God is much more involved in our daily lives than many might imagine, yet He is hardly in absolute control of every aspect of our existence. We have free will to choose to do good, to freely choose evil, or to remain inert and indifferent. God respects our free will: after all, He gave it to us and there is no point in giving us free will if the Lord treats us as puppets on a string. We see this respect for our free will expressed in the prophecies of Hosea, where God tells us that “I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks” (Hosea 11:4).
The human chords that He speaks of here are hardly the strings that a puppet master uses to manipulate, control, and coerce his puppets. These human cords are bands of love, not chains of oppression or coercion. They are gentle bonds that suggest, lead, guide, and shepherd, not brutal ropes of slavery and subjugation. These tender-loving bonds do not do violence to our free will or our dignity, but they try to guide in the ways of God.
Indeed, God never forces Himself upon us, but He offers His love to be accepted or rejected. We see this in Jesus Himself. He never forced Himself on anyone; all were free to follow Him or to go their own way. Through His divine power, Jesus could have compelled the actions of anyone, preventing Judas from committing his act of betrayal or forcing Peter, James, and John not to slumber while Jesus suffered His agony in the garden. No, Judas freely betrayed Jesus and through their own weakness the Apostles failed Jesus in His time of trial. Recognizing their weakness, He says “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Mt 26:40). We also see the way Jesus invites, instead of compelling, when He says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (Mt 11:28-29). We see an expression of this reality, His invitation to us, in the image of the Sacred Heart. Jesus opens His chest to expose His heart, and sometimes you even see an image of Jesus handing us His own heart.
How do we respond to the image of the Sacred Heart? Many are repulsed by this image seeing it as grotesque and macabre. But others are drawn deeper into the mystery of Jesus. We can only be drawn if we understand the profound love Jesus demonstrated by His death on the cross. This love is offered and knows no bounds, so much so that Jesus offers us the very core of His being, his own human heart, and we are free to accept or reject His offer.
Whether Jesus opens His chest or offers us His heart in His hand, the expression on His face is hardly one of anger, disappointment, or vengeance. Given that our sins put Him on the cross, He has every right in the world to be angry with us, to convey His disappointment every time we have betrayed Him with our sins, to to exact from us a pound of flesh for our evil ways. Instead, He invites us with His own heart, an invitation we hardly deserve. In our foolishness we truly do not deserve such tenderness and compassion from Jesus, but we would be even bigger fools for not accepting His gentle invitation to enter into the safety of His Sacred Heart.