Saturday, August 05, 2006

Questions, questions...

A long long time ago (well, actually about 2 weeks) I was whingeing about the level of inertia which arose from hot weather, children on holiday and general silly season feelings. I happened to say to a friend, (whose Best Friend is Mr Giraffe) that I couldnt even think of anything to blog about. MGBF saw this as a challenge, and instantly produced a whole raft of questions which deserve more intelligent answers than I suspect I'm currently capable of. As a general intro, let it be known that MGBF is cheering up the curate considerably as a member of the congregation who’s actually interested and excited about matters of faith. MGBF definitely thinks about these things, and her questions are the sort that make me tremble over the gaps in my brain, though…Right now, my latent theological inadequacy syndrome seems to be particularly rampant, possibly because we have a very well qualified potential ordinand arriving with us on placement tomorrow, so I’m going to post the questions here, together with the beginnings of my answers, in the hope that readers will correct my latent heresies and contribute to the debate. MGBF has found the Christian websites she’s explored to date rather unhelpful, with but one answer to any question (usually "Jesus" , even if the question did involve an animal with long ears and a short fluffy tail) but I’m sure we can, between us, do better.
So, here's our starter for 10

- It is said that to go to heaven you must acknowledge Jesus as the
Lord, and try to follow him to the best of your abilities. Many people in
the world do not have the opportunity to know Jesus, or even hear his name-
and even if they do wish to follow him, they may not feel able to due to the
society they live in. "But whoever denies me before men, him I will
also deny before my Father who is in heaven." For many people, it would not
be possible to openly state their faith without large amounts of
persecution, and though many people in the past have been willing to suffer
for God, does this not seem unfair?

Short answer: YES!

Longer answer: I don't believe that God, in his infinite love and mercy, is going to penalise anyone who is constrained by personal circumstance. I know you're not specifically engaging with "No one comes to the Father except by me" but I'd say the issues are well and truly entangled. For me, this means that what Jesus achieved on the cross opened the way for the whole of creation to be restored to wholeness and happiness with God. Simple as that!
But I wouldn't say that it means that everyone has to have prayed the sinner's prayer, signed on the dotted line and explicitly given their lives to Christ. Rather, I'm inclined to go with the idea of unconscious Christianity which, to my mind is best expressed by C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle

A young Calormene soldier has died in the battle, gone through the stable door and found himself confronted not by the terrible Tash whom he has served all his days, but by the Great Lion, Aslan himself...
"the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he had truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

The other important thing I'd want to say is that we must never assume that people who appear to be rejecting Christ are actually rejecting his reality. It is probably the unhelpful way that his followers have presented him that is causing the trouble...the caricatures that the church has offered from time to time, the language of patriarchy for some, of middle-class conservatism for others will distort the picture...and if you can only glimpse through a glass darkly it can be hard to discern just who it is you're encountering.
We make his love too narrow by false limits of our own, as the hymn says...but ultimately I believe we will all have an opportunity to see him face to face, to recognise that Love for the boundless tide it really is, and it is at that moment of true encounter that we must commit ourselves. I cannot conceive that anyone will choose to turn away from the infinite Love they see then. Love so amazing, so divine...


Paul said...

"What the Bible really teaches" by Keith Ward is a good one for this.

Kathryn said...

Thanks, Paul. I was fortunate to be singing with Trinity Hall choir when Keith Ward was Dean of Chapel, - so he's always on my "must read" list..this might be the final impetus needed.Good to have you appearing again! hope all's well with you?

Songbird said...

Thanks for reminding me that C.S. Lewis made me a Universalist. :-)

dave paisley said...

Great post.

And I don't think Lewis was really promoting Universalism here, more that it's really hard to tell from external appearances who's going where :D

Anna said...

I remember thinking, when I was 14 or so, about this verse and about how it didn't seem to jive with what could be the only end for the wonderful, faith-filled people I knew who weren't Christians-- an eternity of God's grace and love, just as I hoped I'd find. And in a flash, I thought "But it just says no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. It doesn't say HOW people do or don't come to the Father, just that Jesus is somehow involved. So I'll leave it to him."

Nine years on, I haven't found an answer that's substantively better. God willing, I'll get the chance some day to go into the original wording, historical context, significant commentaries, etc. for this and many other verses. But I do think that Father and Son and Holy Spirit have it all worked out somehow, and I'm happy to leave it to them.