This week has been particularly hard… it has been a pretty challenging couple of months of formation, for various reasons, but this week has been particularly hard.
I am not a ‘Calvinist’… I’m not entirely confident I could give a comprehensive description of what a Calvinist is. But I’ve been reliably informed, and am inclined to agree, that I am not one.
What I do not believe in, is the ‘total depravity’ of humanity… I know we are so distracted from God, and busy burying ourselves in the world, that there can at times be very little good about us -but at other times, we can be so lovely and good, that it is easy to see something of Christ about us -and that has nothing to do with religious observance.
I do not believe that anyone is so evil that God is incapable of redeeming them -I believe that good is ultimately stronger than evil -though I know that sometimes this will only be revealed at judgement. I find it pretty much impossible to imagine that there is anyone created, that God does not love… though whether anyone manages to entirely bury themselves away from God over the course of their lives -I don’t know.
This train of thought, unfortunately, does not necessarily match up to everything in scripture -though the case for Universal Salvation can be made theologically, and though I personally would rather think better of people and occasionally be very shocked and disappointed, and still wait for them to have a change of heart… rather than write anyone off or judge anyone… still there is no doubt at all that God is a God who is ‘just’, and who will judge. What he will judge, is something that no human being could truly judge -and that is the heart.
God will look into the true heart of everyone and see what no-one could ever really know with certainty -the feelings, motivations, deep hurts, hardness or injuries, loves and desires that fuel all human thoughts and actions. Things that may be hidden even from ourselves in our deepest self-examination.
This is a pretty scary thought, is it not?
The Bible makes it pretty clear that we will be surprised at the judgement, surprised at those with whom God is pleased, and surprised at those whose apparent worth God does not recognise.
This is, therefore, an even MORE scary thought for anyone in, or training to be in the Priesthood… and presumably, yet more scary still for Bishops and Overseers… with the Archbishops and Patriarchs being (if they are wise) the MOST scared people on Earth, second, of course, only to the Pope.
You see, there is a particular recognition and responsibility which comes with ordination. The idea, to me, seems a little bit like coming into an incredibly posh hotel dining room, glittering with silverware and crystal, and being welcomed politely by very well-dressed people, who guide you to your seat. And all the while, you are acutely aware of your scruffy jogging-bottoms, torn T-shirt and in paranoia even detect as you move, the faint whiff of ancient cheesy feet from your none-too-savoury trainers.
Thankfully, or perhaps, sadly, when ones looks with earthly eyes, at the Church of Christ (both Body of Believers, and structured organisations) in the world, there is often more of the whiffy trainer and school-canteen, than there is of a banquet in the realms of glory. Still, it is vital not to give up looking with heavenly eyes, it is, I think, vital to hang on to that sense of awe, of being just a bod in inappropriate clothing, called to be somewhere incredibly beautiful…because sometimes, the true beauty does break through.
In this regard, there are two alternative wrong ways for the Christian to go, I think. And one would be to lose sight of God’s glory altogether -so that after a while, one is content and comfortable to be (metaphorically speaking) just a bod in scruffy trainers, because the Church is just a school canteen, isn’t it? And the other way to go wrong, would be to lose sight of the present Earthly reality, and start to imagine that one walks in beauty like the night so to speak (Byron, in case you’re wondering) -believing that one is really above all the scruff, and in fact is perfectly attired for the heavenly places, and really far too good to enter the school canteen.
It is a difficult balance to maintain, like divers’ weights, a sense of humility, but acceptance of a role that is significant; true humanity, but a sense of the awesome glory of God… if they get out of balance for any length of time, the results, plummeting down or soaring up -could be equally fatal.
What sense of hope is there then -it seems like a pretty tough deal doesn’t it… really an impossible task? Well, yes, and no… and time for an explanation from my favourite book:
The disciples were utterly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Looking at them, Jesus said, ‘For humans, it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.’ (Mark 10: 26-27)
We can’t do it, we can’t manage to save ourselves, it’s not possible for us to save ourselves. But it IS possible for God to do it, to save us… and why does Jesus even bother to say this to his disciples? He is telling them that God is going to do it – this is not an empty, despair-laden maxim… it is a promise -‘yup, you’ve got it in one… you can’t do it… but God can do it…’ and why? Because God is God of love and not of hate, of creation and of the living, God shows us in Christ, just what he is like… and ultimately, God will show us all in the end, just what kind of God he is.
And I believe in his love… not that I deserve or earn it -but instead that it is absolutely central to who God is -what God is like, so that whatever else I may have misunderstood, underestimated or failed to grasp about God -God loves his people to the point of self-sacrifice -which makes us by his actions priceless.
And I can’t help thinking that God’s actions make us all priceless, no matter what else we may get wrong… so that perhaps the only way to be unredeemed, might be to stand outside the wide open gates of heaven and argue with Saint Peter that ‘you’d rather pay your own way thank you very much!‘ And then spend eternity scrabbling around for the impossible entrance fee, as sinner after sinner scoots humbly and gratefully through for free…