Who Am I?

Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 11 – Assurance of Salvation or What Sort of God Do You Worship?

Posted: July 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

In the Christian circles in which I move, a question of “assurance” often surfaces. That was never a question that troubled me, so it took me a while to discern why it seemed to be an issue for so many. I finally realized that, like so many other questions, it was a matter of how you viewed ultimate reality and how you perceived God. To return to the metaphor of the two-story house, the assurance many people seem to be seeking is the assurance that they will be allowed onto the second floor instead of being locked in the basement. In this picture, God is thus perceived as the ultimate arbiter deciding who goes where. He might be an angry God who will let you sneak onto the second floor if you’re hiding behind his son so he can’t see you. He might be a fair arbiter measuring the balance of good and evil in your life. He might have a checklist and will let you onto the second floor if you have the right boxes checked. Or he could be the arbitrary and capricious God of hard Calvinism who had the secret lists of “saved” and “damned” drawn up before the whole show began. But in this conception of reality, some sort of God like that is at work. And in the face of such a God, people seek assurance that he isn’t going to throw them in the basement.

But I don’t believe in that God. I’ve never believed in that God. As I’ve outlined in this series, I believe there will be a time when all creation is renewed, the veil between heaven and earth is no more, and God is fully revealed as all in all. Most importantly, I believe in resurrection and everything that resurrection implies. I believe in the good God who loves mankind. I believe in the God who became one of us so that we might be healed and be able to be one with him. I believe in the God who is not willing that any should perish. I believe in the God who has done and is doing everything that can be done in love to save every human being. I believe in a God of uncompromising love. I believe in the God we see in Jesus of Nazareth.

But as love does not seek its own way and does not coerce, since I’ve become Christian I’ve understood that the question is not and has never been whether or not God loves me and wants me. God’s answer to that question is and has always been an unchanging and unqualified yes. The question I must answer with my life is whether or not I love and want God. And that’s a very different question indeed. I have believed many things over the course of my life. I have changed my beliefs more than once. I know I want to want this unique God. But I also know myself too well to be “assured” that I will never change. The more I get to know this God, the less likely such a change seems, but I can’t have present certainty about my own future choices and decisions.

My particular group of Christians has a belief which, in the vernacular, is often rendered, “Once saved, always saved.” I think I’ve come to understand that what they actually mean is that once God puts your name on the guest list letting you onto the second floor, he’ll never scratch it out. And I suppose, if that’s your perception of God and reality, it might even be a comforting idea. You don’t have to worry that your name will be taken off the “nice” list and placed on the “naughty” list for something you have or haven’t done.

But I’ve never found the “once saved, always saved” idea anything less than appalling, though it took me some years to understand the underlying reasons I reacted so differently. To me, this concept portrayed first a God of love who extends an invitation to all human beings and freely allows them to respond as they will. So far, so good. But having once given your assent to this God, he then forces you to want him from that point onward. He changes from a God of love to a God of coercion. It’s as though that one-time assent becomes permission to rape my will from that point forward. We are supposed to find true freedom in Christ, but this is not freedom.

I’ll also note that the sort of absolute assurance people seem to be seeking doesn’t exist in our Holy Scriptures. It’s not because God changes or hides anything from us. It’s because we change and we lie to ourselves. A theme we often see in Jesus’ parables is one of surprise by everyone in the end. There will be people “saved” who never fully understood that the life they lived was one of service and love for Jesus. And there will be those who had convinced themselves they wanted Jesus only to discover that they really never wanted him at all. That lack of certainty has never bothered me. In fact, I see it as inevitable. It doesn’t reveal anything arbitrary about God. In fact, that’s the only view that sufficiently allows for both the love of God and for our own free will and capacity for delusion.

As a final thought on this topic, I’ll note that while the truncated view of God and salvation may have “worked” to some extent over the last few hundred years, it’s losing any effectiveness it might have had in our increasingly pluralistic world. It once was true in our part of the world that the perception of reality as a two-story house with a basement was something of a cultural default. And as such, all you really had to do was convince people to take whatever actions you thought needed to be taken to punch their ticket to the second story. Those days are fading and we are entering a period that in some ways is more like that of the ancient world. Before I became Christian, I believed different things at different points in my life, but none of them included the caricature of heaven and hell from the two-story universe with a basement perspective. Most of the time I believed in some form of transmigration of souls. In my more Hindu periods, I perceived the fact that we are reborn more as a problem than not. At other times, I perceived eternal rebirth as a beautiful cycle of life. Regardless, though, the question, “Do you know where you will go when you die?” never had much impact on me. Nor does it have much impact on me now. I simply don’t believe that question has anything to do with the Christian concept of salvation.


Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

Posted: July 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

If the Christian vision of ultimate reality does not revolve around a concentration camp in the midst of paradise, what does it then involve? As I discussed earlier in the series, God is seen as everywhere present, filling and sustaining all things. Although that is both the present and future reality, that glory is now veiled. We do not fully or readily perceive the reality of the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

But that will change one day. It’s the tension between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11. On the one hand, the world is filled with his glory right now and has been from the beginning of creation. But one day, it will be filled with the full knowledge of the glory. It’s the image we see in Habakkuk 2:14.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

As the waters cover the sea? My first reaction to that verse was that the waters are the sea, but as I learned more of the ancient Jewish perception of reality, I came to understand that the “sea” stood for chaos and evil. The “monsters” come from the sea. This is the image of God’s healing waters covering and healing a disordered reality as creation, which is already filled with the glory of the Lord, becomes filled with the full knowledge of that glory. We see similar imagery in Revelation when we are presented with the healing streams and are told there is “no more sea.”

If God’s all-sustaining glory is no longer veiled and suffuses all creation, then one thing is immediately apparent. We will all experience exactly the same ultimate reality. The glory of God, the light of God, the love of God will be inescapable. We will understand and perceive God suffusing all creation, even our own bodies. There will be no place we can turn where that will not be true. And if that’s the case, then we can’t speak of some people (or any created being) or places being treated differently from others. It’s not the case that some are punished and others aren’t.

No, the question becomes rather, “How will I experience the fire of God’s love? Will it be warmth and comfort to me? Or will it be a consuming fire?” We will not be tormented because we have been confined somewhere and tortured by some external agent. No, if we are tormented, it will be because we do not want God yet cannot escape his presence.

Or perhaps we will lock ourselves in our own interior world consumed by passions we can no longer express outwardly. I think of the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’ final Narnia book, The Last Battle. Huddled in the midst of a creation made new, with a feast before them, in the very presence of Aslan, they perceive themselves as in a dark, rank stable eating garbage and drinking dirty water. They will not be fooled again and render themselves incapable of sensing the reality around them. They are bound in delusion. I believe we all have the capacity for such delusion within us.

As I said earlier, hell cannot have the same sort of reality that creation – heaven and earth – has. It’s not a place where God is not, for no such place exists. It cannot be a place that is not renewed within creation. “Behold, I make all things new!” proclaims the Lamb. Hell can only be the experience of a renewed creation and of a God of relentless and consuming love by those who do not want either one and are not formed to live within that reality. The seeds of our own hell are within each of us. As the Didache opens, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.


The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

Posted: June 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.

The way of Jesus, the way of life, is the way of love. We should not find that surprising for as St. John tells us, “God is love.” Nevertheless, we do not want to love every other human being we meet. We believe we ought to be able to pick and choose whom to love. Some people, after all, are not worthy of our love. Is that not so?

No, the way of life is about perceiving reality and acting accordingly. We are to love even those who actively hate us because we perceive their reality as a beloved eikon of God and as our brother or sister.

I see dimly how this is true. Jesus had no enemies. Those who plotted his betrayal and death were not his enemies, though I’m sure they saw themselves as such. They were his brothers. The Romans who crucified him were not his enemies. He forgave them their actions done in ignorance. Judas was not his enemy. Jesus loved him.

Each time I read this part of the Didache these days, I am reminded of two posts by Father Stephen Freeman about a monk in the Holy Land who has no enemies, On the Edge of Heaven and A Single Monk. I invite you to read his posts. Father Stephen expresses what I would say better than I possibly could.

In the face of the God of love and those human beings who truly love, I can only exclaim, “Lord have mercy!” If we love those who hate us, we can have no enemies. Instead, we too often choose to live in delusion surrounded if not by perceived enemies then by those we keep at arm’s length because they might be our enemy. In fear, we push them away rather than embracing them.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


The Didache 1 – The Two Ways

Posted: June 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.

I’m not the sort to separate the crunchy physicality of the Christian story from its spirituality. Yet, as I’ve read this opening line from the Didache lately, I realize that I have nonetheless kept its earthiness at a certain level of abstraction. Celiac makes that starkly real to me.

I face two ways. I can continue to consume gluten if I choose. If I do, I will pay a price. My health will continue to degenerate. I will get sicker though there is no specific, predictable progression. But it will certainly involve pain and decline leading to an unpleasant death after decades of ill health.

Or I can cease consuming all gluten to the best of my ability. As I succeed in doing so my body will heal, my health will improve, and the ultimate quality of my experience of reality will take on brighter hues.

There is a way of life and a way of death. Which way will I make the rule of my life?

It seems obvious to me, but I understand there are some celiacs who refuse to stay on a gluten free diet though they know the price they will pay. Even when the choice is so stark and obvious, because it is not immediate, some choose the way of death.

I’ve been captivated by this line since my diagnosis. It runs through my mind unbidden and at odd times. The choice for the human being is just as stark. We can choose to consume God and be progressively healed, experiencing ever more of true life, learning to taste, touch, smell, hear, and see reality around us as God pierces our delusions. Or we can consume that which is not God and take death into the core of our being.

Yes indeed, there is a great difference between the two ways.

There is more connected to this one line. It’s deeply Jewish in nature. The Way of Torah was a way of shaping life and experiencing God through the mitzvots, feasts, and rituals of Torah. It’s in that context that Jesus’ statement about being the way stands revealed. As the fulfillment of Torah, he places himself in its stead. Follow Jesus and shape your life through his commands, through his body, through his blood.

Jesus is the way of life. Certainly life in the present, but also a life that endures.

Why would we choose to eat death instead?