I was sitting in my office next to a man who was weeping. Terrible and selfish choices made years before had caught up with him. He lost his career, his livelihood, his family, and his dignity.
He was absolutely certain that God was punishing him. He begged me to help him find some penance. He wanted to read the Bible more. He asked me to help him learn Greek, so that he could read the Bible with better understanding. Would I to connect him someone who could teach him how to pray, you know… the right way. He asked me to find him places to volunteer in the church. He was going to give more financially.
The grief and fear was palpable. I tried talking about what Jesus had already done for him. I tried to speak forgiveness and grace to him. In his certainty he could not hear me.
He was convinced that if could do the certain sacred things in the right way, God would be pleased with him. God would forgive him, Maybe God would even bless him and restore what had been lost.
I’ve never been in quite the same situation since, but in twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have learned that this man’s story, while extreme, was not unique to him. His practical theology, shared by so many, was that a relationship with God was all about making the right transaction.