Forgiveness and Repentance (Remembering Brennan Manning)

It is always beneficial to acknowledge that books can be deceptive. The most lyrical prose on the furious longing of God creates the illusion that we have already arrived at beatitude. Then after reading a paragraph or so, you have to return to the sheer ordinariness of your life, to days that bring the same thing over and over again, the drudgery of routine; as the Buddhists say, “the laundry.” Rather than being appalled by the discontinuity between the poetic and interesting and the prosaic and mundane, it serves well to fasten on the utter delight of a loving God who is deeply touched that, in the brouhaha of your busy life, you would devote even five minutes to spiritual reading.

-Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

Last weekend one of my favorite writers, Brennan Manning, passed away. His writing has given me the space to think of God as more than just some deity with a to-do and a not-to-do list. Maybe God really loves me, and even likes me.

I had been a Christian six years before I learned what grace was. I remember being at a beach with Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospelwhispering to my friend Jacque, “Is this true?” Does grace mean I’m forgiven even before I repent? This had never, ever, ever, been taught to me–or perhaps I never heard ituntil I read that book.

I’m finishing up Peter Rollins’s The Orthodox Heretica book of tales or parables. This morning I read Rollins’s retelling of the Parable of the Lost Son, where instead of the prodigal son feeling awful about his squandering before he reunites with his father, he repents after the feast. Rollins notes in the commentary that really this is how the Biblical parable is told, but we don’t often read it that way. We really don’t know if the prodigal son is ready to turn his life around when he returns home; we just know he’s run out of money and is sick of eating pig feed. Either way, the father is ready to embrace him–forgiveness before repentance.

I like Manning’s quote from above, because it’s so true for me. When I read something profound in an essay or book for class, my mind is blown for about 20 minutes until I forget about it and move on with my day. The quotes I remember from books tend to be those that impact me enough to become part of a story, like the one I told about Jacque and me on the beach. I think that’s when books lose that deceptive power. They’re no longer something nice you read on a Sunday afternoon. They become stories you tell, stories you live.

About Lauren Sawyer

I am an assistant instructor at a graduate school in Seattle, Washington, and I hold a master of the arts in theology and culture. I love coffee, rainy days, and John Updike. Learn more about me at

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