I’d like to think that I’m too intelligent and evolutionarily advanced to go skydiving.
Turns out I’m not.
The entire day leading up to the jump is best described simply as “exhausting suspense.” At work–as I tried very hard to convince myself that nothing bad was going to happen–a small bit of my consciousness kept faithful vigil, incessantly chanting “YOU WILL DIE” and occasionally knocking over their candles, setting fire to the rest of my brain.
The drive to the dropzone took nearly an hour. My frayed nerves were further exasperated by fierce rain and the thought that my friend in the passenger’s seat might not die from skydiving but from being in my car.
We finally arrived just late for our scheduled slot at 4 pm and after a simultaneously reassuring and terrifying session of ground school (training), we were ready to dive.
Except we weren’t.
We waited 4 hours in a shed at the mercy of the pounding thunderstorm. There was a moment of false hope in which the people from the 2 pm slot dove in open skies before the clouds rolled back in and destroyed our final opportunity before closing time at 8 pm.
By 8:07–nearly 10 minutes after the place was supposed to be shut down–we were pulled aside to reschedule our jump. The pilot and instructors were standing in a circle outside, talking in hushed tones and shaking their heads at the sky.
Trying to make light of the situation (but also extremely frustrated at the turn of events), I commented to the receptionist, “This is something that would happen to me. God’s like, ‘Hey, guys, I’ve got this great opportunity for you! Juuuust kidding. You’re out here so I can eff you over.'” (In retrospect, not something I’m proud of. At all.)
By 8:18, as we were getting our stuff together to leave, the pilot suddenly dashed into the shed shouting, “There’s an opening in the sky and we’re taking it. SUIT UP!!”
What a blessing in disguise it turned out to be. We dove through a beautiful sunset, billowing thunderclouds and, as our parachutes neared the ground, a beautiful rainbow planted itself on the horizon just beside the shed.
A while ago, I wrote an introductory blog about a book on forgiveness. I didn’t actually write follow-up posts because I simply didn’t know what to say. It was all so interconnected that I couldn’t even break it into topics or sections. But at the end of that book, it became very clear to me that I needed a better understanding of God’s mercy in order to understand forgiveness and continue my theological growth.
I didn’t even make the connection between my pursuit of mercy and what had just happened until the photographer made an off-handed comment immediately after we landed: “It’s actually really cool that you waited so long to jump. No one ever gets to jump at this time of day.”
Then, all at once, I understood it. I suddenly perceived how completely unfair and immature my earlier comment had been; how totally I deserved to be turned around and sent home without skydiving ever for the rest of my life; and how utterly illogical and wonderful God had been to me. And it came to me–after all this time of seeking and confusion–like a wordless voice inside my head: “This is God’s mercy.”
Extravagant, over-the-top, exhilarating, illogical, and thoroughly undeserved.
There’s really only one image I can come up with to try to communicate what mercy is and how it works: Harold and the Purple Crayon.
It’s an old children’s book from the 50’s in which Harold draws an interactive world around himself with a crayon. His creations are just as real as the rest of the world–he can climb on them, travel in them, even eat the food he illustrates.
To a much more divine degree, God has a purple crayon, too. He wants to be close to us so badly that he’s willing to draw any path or create any “loophole” that he needs in order to reach us.
(I should clarify that I only mean that we might perceive it as a “loophole” because it’s something we don’t expect from God. But there won’t be any real loopholes because God cannot contradict Godself or somehow “get around” his own nature.)
This crayon never runs out because it is connected directly to Godself which is, by his very nature, infinite. In other words, there are no limits on God’s mercy.
There are lines from the purple crayon leading from each of us to him all. the. time. Even if we don’t want them or don’t see them.
Better yet, he’s never frugal with his colorful mercy. He’ll draw a million lines, a million engines, a million bridges, or a million miles if it means just having a slim chance of reaching out to you. His mercy is incredibly personal–he’ll create whatever it takes to catch your attention and to draw you in to his enormous heart.
Perhaps there’s no good way to explain it–God’s mercy is really learned best by experiencing it. The mercy, of course, saturates the crucifixion and resurrection in a way that we can still experience 2,000 years later–but sometimes it takes a more personalized, modern experience to really grasp something so abstract, beautiful, and fundamentally divine.
I pray that in time, you’ll be able to experience it and figure it out for yourself–without throwing yourself out of an airplane.