It’s strange, isn’t it, how sometimes what appear to be very different thoughts end up pulling in the same direction? I’ve been meaning to write this post (or one much like it) for quite a while, and have been unable to find the way to start it. This week, various things have prompted me to pull my finger out.
Dad describes himself as ‘spiritually blocked’ which I find quite a useful image. He says he just doesn’t get faith; he can engage with some of the ‘theory’ of religion and with the traditions and rituals but doesn’t believe in or understand God. He comes to church at Christmas and Easter and came whenever we were involved in services as children. But he’s coming for the rest of the family and the occasion rather than anything more. I think my Dad is one of the influences that make me sceptical about evangelism. It seems to me that some people just don’t see life in a way that involves God and I have a certain respect for that.
That rings very true to me. I’ve certainly met people who respect and admire Christian faith, who can take part in Church services from time to time, who recognize the value of the Christian community, yet somehow just don’t “get” faith for themselves. Often, it isn’t for want of trying. How do such folk sit in the scheme of salvation?
Then, there was Kim’s post the other day, Salvation through orthodox belief, which contains this splendid quote from Torrance (which Torrance isn’t stated)
‘He [sic] who boasts of orthodoxy thus sins against Justification by Christ alone, for he justifies himself by appeal to his own beliefs
And finally, in my newspaper today there was an article about Jamie Ross, who is blogging through his treatment for cancer at Cancerous Capers. His perspective on God and faith is interesting to say the least
However, the worst people by far are the people who think that the single thing that I need most in this troubling time is the power of prayer. It’s true to say that there are few graver dangers that cancer patients face than the prospect of becoming a born-again Christian.
Christians always try to get at people when they’re down. If they’re not hassling cancer patients like myself they’re after the homeless, people that are just released from prison or recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
Who is to gainsay the hard-won experience of this young man? Here is someone who has experienced evangelist, as predatory. No matter how good the intentions of the would-be evangelist, what they have succeeded in doing is driving this fellow further from God.
In the evangelical faith I grew up with (Methodist, of course), salvation was a simple matter. God offers his love to all, and all that’s required is for each to take the necessary step of faith, an individual decision to follow Christ.
But where does this place our salvation? Does it rest on what God has done in Christ? Or on our response? Put another way, is it possible to thwart the love of the eternal and almighty God? Traditional formulations would say, yes. Without an individual response in this life, God is effectively rendered powerless.
And the more I think about it, the more unsatisfactory that becomes.
As a father, I’m as sure as I can be that the love I have for my daughters is absolutely independent of their actions. I can’t imagine anything they could do which would put them outside of that love. Yes, I know that love can fail, that a father can turn away from his children, but that would be my failure not theirs. Is God’s love so fragile? As St Paul might say — by no means!
I find myself obliged to conclude, against the tradition I’ve received (and, it has to be said, against the discipline of the church in which I serve) that the eternal love of the everlasting God will have the last word, overcoming all our inability to respond and our unwillingness to receive to achieve his purpose “to reconcile all things to himself”.
Nothing less makes sense.