Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grace and All That

Wowza has it been a long time since I posted. I knew I was neglecting my blog, but I didn't realize that it was quite this bad! I'd like to promise to do better, and I think that promise would be as much for myself as any readers, but I don't make promises I'm not sure I can keep. So I'll try, but that's the best I can do.

So anyway, my thoughts this morning are on grace. I recently had a conversation with some folks about grace, and salvation, and hell, and faith. It was exhausting, as much of that part of my theology is still developing, but it was also exhilarating. I believe it's necessary to wrestle with these kinds of things. We didn't come to too many conclusions, but the wrestling has stuck with me over the last couple weeks. Just how big is God's grace? It's not earned, but aren't there some requirements? If there is no hell, then what is the point of salvation? What DOES Jesus mean when he says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and no one gets to the Father except through me?" If non-Christians receive God's grace too, then why did God send Jesus? Can you be a Christian if you don't believe Jesus was divine? If so, is there still a trinity?

Seriously, they are questions that can keep someone like me awake at night. And as I told those folks, my life would be infinitely easier if I were a black-and-white kind of person, if I could just accept pat answers, memorize them, and spit them back out as truth. Salvation from sin comes through atonement and the cross alone, and it means salvation from Hell. Good people who believe Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior do not go to Hell. Being "good" means following what is written in the Bible, and what is found there is infallible.

However, I'm not that kind of person. I am much more aware of nuance and different perspectives. I struggle to figure out what place the really crappy stories and and instructions in the Bible have in our faith lives today.  I shudder to think that the beautiful, loving non-Christian people I know will go to Hell while vile, hate-spewing oppressor Christians get the Eternal Good Life. It's not all clear. The Bible contradicts itself. It was written by fallible humans, and as someone who frequently attempts to write and speak with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I know first hand that sometimes we get in the way or screw it up or spin the message to our liking.

Here's my mini-morsel of insight that has occurred to me on this hazy, hot and humid summer morning in Massachusetts: if God's grace looks like our human ideas of justice and fairness, we're probably not getting it right. I don't know exactly what God's justice looks like. I do know that I don't believe in an eternal separation from God in a fiery underworld. That being said, I think we must be accountable for our actions--or inaction--in this life. How that plays out, I just don't know. My human sense of justice is that of course Mother Theresa and Jerry Sandusky (making an assumption of guilt here, although of course he's still in court receiving his fair trial) would end up in different places. That's only fair. A life lived ministering to the poor vs. a life lived inflicting horrific abuse on children? Duh. 

And yet. I have no doubt that anyone who is a perpetrator of abuse--and particularly abuse against children-- will have to answer to her/his Creator. I have no doubt that God has little tolerance for such evil. And yet, something in my gut twists a little to create such an absolute, such a limit to God's grace. Where is the line? Is it rape, murder, abuse? What about stealing? What about not caring for "the least of these?" In Jesus' famous speech about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and visiting the prisoners and in doing such, doing so for him and being blessed, we tend to stop reading before we get to the second part about the people who DON'T do those things facing damnation. Or there's that line in Mark about most sin being forgivable except blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, which is eternally unforgivable. 

I think God's grace is big. Bigger than we could ever imagine. And while we certainly must strive to live in obedience to God and God's commandments, I think we'd do well not to say for certain, "This thing is beyond God's grace." Somehow, I just picture God's response to such a limit to be something along the lines of, "Oh yeah? Watch me."

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