Growing up, I never wanted to incur the anger of my dad. He very seldom got mad, but when he did, you were in for it.
So, you can imagine my fear after throwing a rock through a car window. I was probably 4 years old and was playing in my relative’s front yard, down the street from our house on Milbank Avenue in Greenwich. I was pretending to be a baseball player and was throwing rocks, not a smart thing to do. I was trying to throw them across the street and onto the field on the other side to my imaginary catcher. I didn’t quite make it with one toss, and the rock struck the window of a passing car, shattering it. Who knew a 4-year old could throw so hard?
The driver of the car stopped and, understandably, was very upset. My cousin went to get my dad. As I waited, I was trembling. I was sure that I would be grounded for a long, long time. My dad arrived and settled things with the driver. The one-block walk home took an eternity. When we got home, I braced myself for the punishment.
To my amazement, my dad put his arm around me and said, “I know you didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident, but you shouldn’t be throwing rocks near the street. Don’t do it again.”
That was it. No punishment! I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure that I was in big trouble, but my dad understood and had compassion. I was so relieved and so thankful. And l had learned my lesson.
It’s the same with us and our Heavenly Father. Throughout human history, we’ve turned away from God, and he has patiently waited for us to return. He has prepared a place in heaven for each of us, and he desperately wants us to join him there at the end of our earthly lives. But our sinful nature creates a barrier between us and God and heaven.
I can certainly say that I, more frequently than I would like to admit, have had an experience with God similar to the one I had as a kid with my dad. Typically, it’s not a single, traumatic occurrence, but rather, a gradual drifting away from him. When I realize what’s happened, I feel guilty and hesitate to even talk to God because of my guilt. But when I finally turn to God and ask for his mercy, I am amazed at the response.
In particular, when I finish making my confession, and I am absolved of my sins, I experience God’s love in a unique way. I can personally feel God’s mercy and his soothing words, whether spoken through the priest or directly to me by the Holy Spirit. And I walk out of the confessional with a bit of a skip in my step, just like I did on that day long ago on Milbank Avenue.
Our God is so compassionate and loves us so much that he sent his only Son to live among us and give himself up for us in order to break that barrier between his Father and us. Think about it. God gives us everything we need and created heaven for us. How have we responded? We too often take his gifts for granted and gradually drift further away from him.
What is God’s reaction? It should be punishment for our transgressions, just like I thought would be the case with my dad. I thought for sure that I would be grounded for throwing the rock.
But astonishingly, it’s not. God reaches out with compassion. He reminds us that we are already saved by the sacrifice of his Son. He puts his arm around us and welcomes us back. Over and over. It just doesn’t make any sense! A love so unconditional, so infinite, doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t have to. But it should make us relieved and thankful. And hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson, too.
By Paul E. Tupper II
EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul E. Tupper II, a native of Greenwich, graduated from St. Mary High School in Greenwich and spent his career in public accounting at KPMG LLP in New York. His father, the late Deacon Paul Tupper, was assigned to St. Clement Church in Stamford and later St. Mary Church in Greenwich.